Monday, December 1, 2008

"Dewey" and "Adorno"

There are fewer habits more corrosive to thought than the tendency to name-drop and to speak in "isms" and sometimes "ologies." I'm as guilty of this as the next academic, and what I wish to do here is make explicit what's going on with the names I tend to drop. In doing this, I want to keep the names and traditions in our peripheral but not our foveal vision.

When I invoke the name of "Dewey," what I'm trying to bring into the conversation is a commitment to objective fallibilism -- the view that our knowledge and our ethics is both objectively valid and fallible, yet also corrigible, in light of experience -- also a commitment to piecemeal reform; a faith in the capacities of human beings to solve collective problems; a confidence that technology can be used democratically, humanely, and wisely, even though it usually isn't; a view of human beings as inseparable from and continuous with the rest of the natural world, even with respect to our capacities that seem most uniquely human; a sensibility that is respectful of spiritual yearnings even when skeptical of the supernatural; and a recognition that these yearnings often to take on a communal form, even though ecclesiastical hierarchies have usually posed obstacles to the furthering of freedom, knowledge, and justice.

When I invoke the name of "Adorno," what I'm trying to bring into the conversation is a recognition of the dialectical operations of society and culture -- e.g. how specific cultural products -- a play, a philosophical text, a novel -- can simultaneously conceal and reveal the movements of capital and power which generate them; an insistence that the evils of Communism cannot in any way excuse us from turning a blind eye to the evils of capitalism; an awareness of how fundamentally everything in Western culture, philosophy, politics must be re-framed in light of the Holocaust; and the imperative of re-conceptualizing the very nature of rationality itself in terms of a re-orientation of thought towards the sensual particularity that is excluded as "non-rational" by the canon.

The other philosophers by whom I've been most recently and directly influenced -- Buber, Foucault, Merleau-Ponty, Wittgenstein, Putnam, Rorty, McDowell -- are philosophers who I appreciate because of what there is in their work which I can appropriate in the further explication of Dewey and Adorno. (And that turns out to be a great deal!)

And, as the great philosopher Groucho Marx once put it, "these are my principles. If you don't like them, I have others."