Kant and the Crisis of Symbolic Rationality
Eamon, Kathleen Margaret
This dissertation develops a theory of symbolic rationality, which it posits as an affectively informed mode of cognition modeled on Kant’s conception of reflective judgment as presented in his Critique of Judgment but with an emphasis on our need to account for the sociality or intersubjective dimension of judgment. Thus ‘symbolic rationality’ is a name for the way we collectively work on, with, or through the excesses and remains produced by everyday-objective or scientific-objective synthetic and systematic thought. Insofar as the dissertation posits a crisis of symbolic rationality, it takes this form of thought’s emergence to be coincident with the loss of an externally, culturally mediated traditional and symbolic social order. Living in a post-traditional era, we gain the right to press claims on behalf of reason against the forms that order our social lives, but just as we gain that right, we also lose meaningful (social) contact with the materials that have been excluded from that order. Value now seems to arise mysteriously from the objective, economic world while still making its appeal to some point of contact with our desires in the form of commodities, but the world of materials rejected in favor of those sanctioned desires thereby disappears. A theory of symbolic rationality continues to make some sense of the need we have to coordinate our excesses in such strange cultural modes as styles, fads, hobbies, but insofar as these are experienced as both hollow and inescapable, it does not directly give us access to what motivates these cultural mediations. By way of both Kantian and Hegelian philosophical aesthetics, the dissertation argues that it is to works of art that we must look in order to encounter a cultural form systematically committed to making cultural contradictions palpable, and that we can further look to contemporary political struggles to see something similar in and around currently contested social symbols such as marriage.