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The Subject of Modernity.

Cascardi, Anthony J. The Subject of Modernity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992. x + 316 pp. Cloth, $49.95; paper, $16.95--This book is another "post-modern critique of modernity," in this case concluding with a brief suggestion that a "reinterpretation of the concept of |laesthetic judgment' that originates in Kant," under the name of "aesthetic liberalism," can solve the problems of modernity (p. 302). The argument is that there is a distinctively modem but self-contradictory conception of the self But what is really at issue is the modem conception of rationality, broadly defined, rather than any more focused conception of the self:

The modem conception of reason, which is closely aligned with the

rise of modem science, may well be credited with the "disenchantment"

of the world, but is in turn the source of a new range of

gods and demons associated with values, desires, and the will.

While the modem self is defined in terms of its freedom to choose

from among a plurality of values, it is at the same time dependent on

a conception of reason that proves powerless to make meaningful

distinctions among values. (p. 39)

Cascardi bases his sweeping generalizations on readings of a few authors such as Descartes, Cervantes, Hobbes, Pascal, and Hegel (as read by Kojeve). As this list suggests, his analysis is based almost exclusively on early modem authors, who in many cases were at best incompletely modem. The diagnosis of tensions in the first gropings towards new conceptions of theoretical and practical reason at the very outset of the modern period can hardly prove that no coherent secular or "disenchanted" conception of reason subsequently was or could be formulated. In spite of the allusion to the "rise of modern science" as the explanation of the "disenchantment of the world," reflection on the actual accomplishments of modem science beginning in the seventeenth century is glaringly absent from Cascardi's work. There is no argument that the history of modem science has shown the modem conception of reason to be fundamentally flawed, but only complaints about the conceptions of reason held by a very small number of philosophical and literary figures.

The book consists of five chapters diagnosing the failures of modernity and a sixth exploring the "Possibilities of Post-modernism," concluding with the recommendation of "Aesthetic Liberalism." The first diagnostic chapter discusses "the |disenchantment' of the world," the "assumption that there are no intelligible essences, and no natural order inherent in the world" (p. 43). This characterization is bizarre, since the aim of the modem conception of theoretical reason, questioned by Hume but reasserted by Kant, was nothing less than to ground the assumption that there is a natural order inherent in the world without appealing to any extramundane or divine guarantee of the type still employed by the only partially modem Descartes. The second chapter, "The Theory of the Novel and the Autonomy of Art," focusing primarily on Georg Lukac's Theory of the Novel and Cervantes' Don Quixote, tries to show that traditional values taken seriously in ancient epic can only be ironically represented to the modem mind. The third chapter, "Secularization and Modernization," attempts to show that the modem frame of mind is never really secular but only secularized, preserving and indeed defining itself against a tacit reference to the kind of transcendent essences or values it supposedly rejects; and that without appeal to such forces secular reason can never succeed in constituting genuine norms (see p. 139). But the story of modernization that Cascardi ascribes to Habermas, Blumenberg, and Rorty--namely, that it is an attempt to develop genuinely secular conceptions of norms and reason that retain no hidden appeal to the transcendent (pp. 145-53)--is simply rejected without explanation. In the fourth chapter, "The Subject and the State," Cascardi extends his argument to political thought, relying almost exclusively on Hobbes to show that the modernist conception of persons as self-interested rational agents collapses when transcendence is reintroduced in the form of the absolute state. The vast response to Hobbes, however, beginning with Locke and culminating with Kant's attempt to derive both the necessity and the limitations of coercive public law from the conception of freedom itself, is totally ignored, undermining Cascardi's pretense to be analyzing the characteristic form of modem political philosophy. In the fifth chapter, "Subjective desire," Cascardi uses Hobbes and the Hegel of the Phenomenology's master-slave dialectic to argue that the modem conception of desire is only a desire to be recognized by other persons, which can never be satisfied because it must also destroy those whose recognition is needed. This is of course a reductive approach to the subject, which fails to consider the much more subtle view of human needs put forth by the Hegel of the Philosophy of Right, just for starters.

In the final chapter, Cascardi finally turns to "aesthetic liberalism." After three hundred two pages of critique, this is dealt with in eight pages. Cascardi's claim is that Kant's conception of aesthetic judgment gives us an intellectually respectable model for a type of thought which would preserve the autonomy of individual subjectivity while also permitting the kind of reference to something more than merely individual, such as the "supersensible substrate of humanity," which has been unsuccessfully repressed by modernity (p. 308). Unfortunately, Cascardi pays no attention to the complexity of Kant's analysis of aesthetic judgment and the difficulties surrounding his introduction of the indeterminate conception of the supersensible to solve the antinomy of taste. Above all, Cascardi fails to consider the implications of Kant's assignment of aesthetic judgment to reflective judgment, with the concomitant regulative rather than constitutive interpretation of its claims. By these architectonic signposts Kant attempts to show precisely how cautious we must be in attempting to supplement the objective constraints of theoretical and practical reason with the subjectively encouraging hints and analogies characteristic of the aesthetic. Such caution is missing from Cascardi's sudden resolution of the difficulties of modernity.

This book is simplistic both in its diagnosis of the failings of modernity and its solution to them. Missing throughout is any sense of how difficult it has been for thinkers such as not only Descartes and Hobbes but also Locke, Hume, Kant, Mill, Darwin, and Rawls to free reason from myth. In my view, we are not in a position where we can comfortably look back on that project and smugly point to its shortcomings, but are still very much in the middle of it.
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Author:Guyer, Paul
Publication:The Review of Metaphysics
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 1, 1993
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