Modernity and Its Discontents

Modernity and Its Discontents

Modernity and Its Discontents

Modernity and Its Discontents


¿[A] uniquely constructive dialogue which brings into focus the principal epistemological, ethical, and political issues. . . .¿ -International Philosophical Quarterly The introduction by Merold Westphal sets the scene: "Two books, two visions of philosophy, two friends and sometimes colleagues...". Modernity and Its Discontents is a debate between Caputo and Marsh in which each upheld their opposing philosphical positions by critical modernism and post-modernism. The book opens with a critique of each debater of the other's previous work. With its passionate point-counterpoint form, teh books recalls the philosphical dialogues of classical times, but the writing style remains lucid and uncluttered. Taking the failure of Englightenment ideals as their common ground, the debaters challenge each other's ideas on the nature of post-foundationalist critique. At the core of the argument lies the timely question of the role that each person can play in creating a truly humane society.


Merold Westphal

TWO BOOKS, TWO VISIONS of philosophy, two friends and sometime colleagues. Do we not have the makings of an exciting philosophical dialogue? Not quite. The crucial ingredient, as the Socrates of the Gorgias reminds us, is the willingness to enter into conversation, to abjure the making of speeches and to engage in open and honest question and answer without precondition. In this volume two contemporary philosophical postures, which, for the sake of convenience, can be labeled critical modernism and postmodernism, have been incarnated in persons who embody that crucial willingness to converse. While neither can be accused of passing up all opportunities to score rhetorical points, both have shown themselves passionately unwilling to reduce dialogue to playing games or to allow jargon to compromise the search for understanding.

This particular incarnation of the dialogue between critical modernism and postmodernism has a second remarkable asset. Readers of this volume and of the two books that lie behind it, Radical Hermeneutics and Post-Cartesian Meditations, will note with gratitude that Jack Caputo does not write like Derrida and Jim Marsh does not write like Habermas. Both have resisted the temptation to identify obscurity with profundity and have rather put in the service of their readers their ability to write lucid prose.

In seeking to make sense out of this debate it is important to keep in mind the political and philosophical common ground on which it is fought. Politically speaking, it takes place well to the left of center. Neither Caputo nor Marsh is willing to let the evils of state socialism or its collapse in eastern Europe blind him to the sufferings and injustices created and therefore tolerated by American society.

But the philosophical proximity that accounts for much of the heat generated by the disagreements that come to the fore is, if anything, more important. The shared presupposition of the present debate is the . . .

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