The New Face in Town

Jan 1, 2014 by

The arrival of a new year ushers in many changes.  This website is no exception.  At the warm invitation of the authors, I have been asked to lend my voice to this discussion of reason and weigh in on many of the spirited debates.  It is with a grateful heart and a shared concern for the mission of this website and its authors, that I happily accept.

This being my inaugural essay, I would like to begin with an outline of my own project, discuss how it aims to be complementary to the groundwork that has already been established, and finally give our readership something to consider as I move forward with my project. As ever and always, comments and questions will be welcomed!

First, this website casts a rather broad net: from domestic affairs, to politics, and philosophy, it would seem that the whole of human social experience is our field of inquiry.  Like many of the authors here, I share their desire to know more about this experience and what role–if any–reason should or should not, does or does not play in it.  But what exactly is this ‘reason’ we all seem to share a desire to demonstrate, or demonstrate the lack thereof, in human social experience?  What do we mean when we propose a ‘philosophy of reason’?  What is it we want to uncover and what change do we hope to bring about with or as a result of reason?  The first part of my project will look at these questions and take as its object of analysis the term ‘reason’ itself and practices associated with it in order to ask: Is it possible that there exist different types of reason?  Are there limitations to what reason can and cannot do, can and cannot know?  In answering these questions and others, I will turn to Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason and Max Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Economy and Society, and several of his essays in the volume Methodology in the Social Sciences in order to demonstrate the scope of my inquiry and raise some crucial distinctions necessary to get at what it means to be reasonable in a seemingly unreasonable society.

Second, because we do not find ourselves at the beginning of some historical process, but rather in the midst of a period like and unlike others that have come before, the question arises: how is our present like and unlike the presents of the past?  To answer this question, I will turn my attention to some of the master works and master discussions of reason in order to trace–though not exhaustively–a ‘history of the present.’  Often associated with the French theorist Michel Foucault, a ‘history of the present’ aims to discover the domain of possible experience within our present by looking to the past as an inspiration in order to uncover new experiences and practices within our present.  In other words, by looking at the practices and patterns of past experience we can develop a more critical understanding of ourselves in the present time and begin to question–and possibly change–the practices and patterns of experience in our present.

In my attempt to foster this critical understanding amongst our readership, I will consider a wide variety of mediums, everything from books, art, architecture, poetry, social observations, urban planning, space, and more.  For example, one set of essays I intend to publish on this site will look at the relationship of love to wisdom across a series of works, from Plato’s Symposium, Aristotle’s Niccomachean Ethics, to Thomas Aquinas’ On Charity, in order to examine an ‘ancient’ conception of love and wisdom.  Is love solely a thing of the heart and reason a thing of the mind? What do these writers tell us about love and wisdom?  Do they bear any relevance to our present time?  Do their ideas have any political or social implications for us?  Likewise, but in a comparative manner, I will examine the relationship of love to wisdom in more ‘modern’ writers, i.e. Rousseau, the Marquise de Sade, Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, Freud, etc.  I will consider some of the above questions and aim to uncover points of convergence and divergence between an ‘ancient’ and a ‘modern’ conception.

Because a ‘history of the present’ will be the meat of my project, and given how I have described my approach, this will be an ongoing feature in my contribution to this site.  While some of my essays will deal with a few rather intimidating topics, such as the above, I also hope to dedicate a significant portion of my work to exploring other realms besides social and political theory.

My essays will undoubtedly take-on a life of their own and spark their own questions and debates; but, they are nonetheless an integral part of every article on this site, at once illuminating and illuminated by the authors and ideas that have come before me.  While at times my essays may even seem to be contrary to other articles, this can only be a sign of the existence and importance of the healthy debate we wish to champion.

In closing this essay, I would like to again express my thanks and gratitude to this website’s authors and leave our readership with something to mull over until the next article.

Karl Marx wrote the Theses on Feuerbach in the spring of 1845.  Published posthumously in 1888 by his colleague and friend Friedrich Engels, the Theses are Marx’s critique of fellow Young Hegelians’–in particular Ludwig Feuerbach–oversight of the political consequences of their ideas.  In thesis XI, Marx provides us with a call to action that I will carry on in my own essays:  “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point, however, is to change it”  (Marx 145).

Works cited

Marx, Karl, ed. by Robert C. Tucker  The Marx-Engels Reader: Second Edition.  New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1978.

 

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