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Philosophy in a Time of Lost Spirit

Philosophy in a Time of Lost Spirit: Essays on Contemporary Theory

Copyright Date: 1997
Pages: 242
  • Book Info
    Philosophy in a Time of Lost Spirit
    Book Description:

    In this collection of his essays and reviews, Ronald Beiner probes the boundaries of our social world and develops his own intellectual challenge to liberalism in a critical review of contemporary thinkers.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7844-6
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface: The Theorist as Critic
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. I: Liberalism and Hyper-Liberalism

    • 1 Liberalism in the Cross-Hairs of Theory
      (pp. 3-17)

      My purpose in this essay is to give an account of the kind of robust social criticism that I associate with the very enterprise of theory and to explain why the liberal philosophy that prevails in the contemporary academy is averse to this sort of social criticism. My aim is both to explore a certain conception of radical social theory and to defend this conception against familiar objections posed by those who represent the dominant liberal political philosophy.

      The so-called liberal-communitarian debate of the 1980s seems a good starting point, since this debate gave prominent focus to anxieties about the...

    • 2 The Proper Bounds of Self
      (pp. 18-20)

      Within the sprawling Rawls industry, Michael Sandel withLiberalism and the Limits of Justicehas written a genuinely important and philosophical book on the nature and limits of Rawlsian liberalism. Sandel is able to identify the limits and deficiencies of the contemporary liberal vision because he possesses a penetrating understanding of the moral and intellectual force of that vision. Sandel’s work is written with style and precision, making it equally valuable for both student and specialist.

      Sandel’s argument concentrates on two defining features of Rawls’s version of liberalism: the priority of the right over the good (deontology); and the priority...

    • 3 Reconciling Liberty and Equality
      (pp. 21-24)

      John Rawls is generally acknowledged as having launched the contemporary regeneration of liberalism as a philosophy of society through a thoroughgoing reflection on first principles. Rawls did this by placing the question of distributive justice at the centre of liberal philosophy. A great many writers have followed in his train, the most recent of whom is Michael Walzer with his important new book,Spheres of Justice.

      Before stating my criticisms, I should declare my admiration for the book. Walzer writes with enviable lucidity (and wit) and also with a marvellous command of historical and sociological detail. His substantive discussions contain...

    • 4 Cruelty First
      (pp. 25-27)

      In her bookOrdinary Vices, Judith Shklar has set out to offer a defence of liberalism. The vehicle of this defence is a moral psychology of the vices. This is appropriate, for liberalism is often interpreted as the turning of a blind eye to private vice, on the proviso that all adhere to a common minimum standard of public legality. It might be inferred from this, as some critics allege, that liberalism lacks a moral vision. Shklar challenges this interpretation head-on. Her aim is to show that sufferance of vice does not imply lack of awareness or indifference. Quite the...

    • 5 Liberalism as Neutralism
      (pp. 28-34)

      Toleration and the Constitutionis a book that, very encouragingly, promises to cure the typical ‘lawyer’s disease’ of insular narrowness with a good dose of robust theory. It abounds with references to Augustinian theology, Lockean political philosophy, and contemporary American jurisprudence. The basic thesis of the book is that at the heart of the American Constitution is a tradition of ‘metainterpretive diversity’ (p. 128), the appreciation of which requires a narrative retelling of the historical sources of the theology, political philosophy, and legal embodiments of this tradition. The intention is emphatically holistic and cross-disciplinary, in pursuit of a genuinely philosophical...

    • 6 Revising the Self
      (pp. 35-43)

      WithLiberalism, Community, and Culture(Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989), Will Kymlicka has written a penetrating, highly illuminating, and exceptionally lucid book in which he sets out a systematic liberal doctrine of the relation between the individual and the community with respect to the kinds of cultural membership that one finds in pluralistic societies. He defends the egalitarian liberalism of Rawls and Dworkin, reformulates this liberalism in places to render it more coherent in the face of challenges from critics of liberalism, and extends this liberalism in new directions. It is a book that deserves to be taken seriously by both...

    • 7 Liberalism, Pluralism, and Religion
      (pp. 44-50)

      The reflections that follow were occasioned by three excellent papers that were delivered at a panel on liberalism and pluralism at the 1995 American Political Science Association meetings. The papers were by Alan Ryan, Stephen Macedo, and Pratap Mehta. I’ll begin with a brief review of the arguments presented by each of them; after that, I’ll follow with some thoughts of my own.

      In a very fine discussion of the ‘uneasy alliance’ between liberalism and pluralism, Ryan contends that before one can say something intelligent about the relationship between liberalism and pluralism, one must first be aware of the pluralism...

    • 8 Richard Rorty’s Liberalism
      (pp. 51-63)

      The two leadingenfants terriblesof Anglo-American philosophy in the last ten years or so have been Richard Rorty and Alasdair MacIntyre. In recent years, Rorty and MacIntyre have come under sharp attack from a wide range of critics for being what philosophers are supposed to be – namely gadflies, stinging us into wakeful criticism of long-dormant intellectual dogmas and cultural pieties. The notable difference between MacIntyre and Rorty, of course, is that MacIntyre has emerged as a leading critic of contemporary liberalism whereas Rorty presents himself as a defender – albeit an unconventional defender – of liberalism. However, paradoxically,...

    • 9 Foucault’s Hyper-Liberalism
      (pp. 64-80)

      Michel Foucault clearly has enjoyed and continues to enjoy an eager reception as one of the major intellectuals of the left. However, as one reflects on the character of Foucault’s political and existential commitments, it might be reasonable to ask whether his ‘left libertarianism’ shares more with the libertarianism of the right than his followers would care to acknowledge. One could at least take this up as a hypothesis for further analysis. In this light, it may not be so surprising that Foucault in his lectures of the late 1970s was, it appears, notably receptive to a range of market-...

  5. II: Interrogating Modernity

    • 10 Do We Need a Philosophical Ethics? Theory, Prudence, and the Primacy of Ethos
      (pp. 83-94)

      One of the more interesting developments in moral theory in recent decades has been a very notable resurgence of modes of thought inspired by Aristotle’sNicomachean Ethics. Needless to say, this turn back to Aristotle within contemporary moral and political theory did not please everyone. In particular, Habermas and his followers charged that neo-Aristotelianism, with its appeal to notions likeethosandphronesis, rendered morality entirely dependent on the contingencies of given constellations of social life, and therefore abdicated the proper task of a moral theory, which is to supply universalist moral principles, as Kant, for instance, aspires to do...

    • 11 Rescuing the Rationalist Heritage
      (pp. 95-101)

      Imagine a social theory that seeks to combine the boldest truths of German speculative philosophy with the analytical precision of contemporary Anglo-American philosophy. Such a theory, let us suppose, is equally at home in the traditions of American pragmatism, post-Wittgensteinian speech act theory, and German hermeneutics. Let us assume, moreover, that this theory incorporates the best critical insights of Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud, while eliminating the elements of folly and extravagance in these teachings. It takes the best from both Marxist and Weberian social theory. Imagine, too, that the theory offers a comprehensive radical epistemology as a foundation for its...

    • 12 Accepting Finitude
      (pp. 102-104)

      One of the most encouraging intellectual events of the 1970s was the emergence of Hans-Georg Gadamer as a real presence on the English-speaking philosophical scene. Not only has Gadamer attained prominence as a star pupil and exponent of Heidegger, but more and more he has gained attention as a major thinker in his own right. English-speaking students and admirers of Gadamer’s work are fortunate indeed that his memoirs are now available in Thomas McCarthy’s excellent series, ‘Studies in Contemporary German Social Thought.’ The book offers a set of charming and richly detailed sketches of Gadamer’s experiences as student and teacher...

    • 13 Hannah Arendt and Leo Strauss: The Uncommenced Dialogue
      (pp. 105-133)

      Nowhere in Hannah Arendt’s published work does she mention Leo Strauss. This seems rather curious. Both arose from the same intellectual milieu. They knew each other personally, starting in the early 1930s.¹ Both felt the strong impact of the encounter with Heidegger, which remained a continuing influence upon each of them. Both were preoccupied throughout their careers with ancient political philosophy and its relevance for contemporary politics. Being German Jews, they were both driven from Germany in the early 1930s, and both settled permanently in the United States. At various times, they were affiliated with the same institutions – the...

    • 14 Eros and the Bourgeoisie
      (pp. 134-138)

      We are fortunate to have one last book by Allan Bloom, in which he gathers together the fruits of a lifetime of acute reading, and of forceful teaching based on the books that were most important to him. InLove and Friendship, Bloom returns to the three lodestars of his previous scholarly work: Plato, Shakespeare, Rousseau.

      Although he undoubtedly relished the fame and fortune, Bloom was not altogether well-served by his rise to bestsellerdom. The popularity ofThe Closing of the American Mindentrenched the image of him as a guru of neoconservative culture criticism, to be ideologically reviled in...

    • 15 Left-Wing Conservatism: The Legacy of Christopher Lasch
      (pp. 139-150)

      In the debates that commanded the attention of political philosophers in the 1980s, critics of liberal individualism came to be called ‘communitarians.’ Like me, Christopher Lasch has serious reservations about this label, and offers a preferred alternative: ‘populism.’ In this essay, I want to propose another label that I think is more precise than either of these: namely, ‘left-wing conservatism’; moreover, Lasch himself presents a superb illustration of the appropriateness of the label I am proposing.

      Christopher Lasch wrapped up a very productive, indeed prolific, career as a historian, cultural commentator, and social critic with two interesting books,The True...

    • 16 Hermeneutical Generosity and Social Criticism
      (pp. 151-166)

      It is possible to read Charles Taylor’sSources of the Selfas a magisterial attempt, not only to respond to the whole range of debunkers of modernity – from Adorno on the left to Allan Bloom on the right – but to respond as well to the postmodern conception that we now inhabit a universe of metaphysical groundlessness, decentred selves, and deconstructable traditions. Taylor wants to argue against the postmodernists that far from being centreless selves stitched together from bits and pieces of deconstructed traditions, we can as modern selves draw upon inner structures of moral aspiration as resources for...

    • 17 Thin Ice
      (pp. 167-172)

      First come the disclaimers. Leszek Kolakowski professes to have no philosophy of modernity to offer, and claims to be at a loss to know even how to define modernity, let alone how to define such newfangled constructions as ‘postmodernity.’ Yet he has a sufficiently definite notion of modernity that he can understand very well why modern intellectuals are such a gloomy lot, and he has enough of a position of his own on the issue of modernity that he can share to quite a fair degree this mood of discomfort or unease. And while he would no doubt be put...

  6. III: Political Judgment Revisited

    • 18 Practical Wisdom
      (pp. 175-177)

      In this collection of essays, Richard Bernstein offers an agreeable tour of some of the most interesting and controversial landmarks of recent philosophy and social theory. In his panorama of ‘the current philosophic scene,’ he surveys and criticizes leading contributions by thinkers at or near the centre of contemporary debate: Richard Rorty, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Jürgen Habermas, Alasdair MacIntyre, Charles Taylor, Herbert Marcuse, Martin Heidegger, Hannah Arendt, and John Dewey. Bernstein’s insights and critical reflections are always stimulating and intelligent. His essays can be recommended as providing as good an introduction as any to the sorts of issues and concerns that...

    • 19 Science and Wisdom
      (pp. 178-183)

      As Peter Steinberger points out in the opening pages of his new study,The Concept of Political Judgment, concern with the idea of practicaljudgmentarises out of the common intuition that there is a natural and unbridgeable gap between theory and practice. Philosophers analyse concepts; scientists amass empirical knowledge; administrators and technicians apply rules; but no amount of scientific knowledge or command of abstract intelligence can guarantee that one will conduct oneself wisely or insightfully in navigating the demands of ordinary life. Great philosophers can be morally obtuse; learned scientists can put their knowledge in the service of evil;...

    • 20 Rereading Hannah Arendt’s Kant Lectures
      (pp. 184-194)

      I have to confess that, for me, there is something a little strange about my undertaking in this paper. For what I propose to do, really, is go back to some things I got interested in fifteen years ago, and try to give an account of why they seemed important to me then, and why they continue to seem important. Retracing one’s steps along an intellectual path invites reflection in a more autobiographical mode than is usually appropriate in philosophy, and I hope I will be forgiven if I indulge myself a little in this autobiographical impulse.

      I first started...

  7. Notes
    (pp. 195-228)
  8. Index
    (pp. 229-240)