and the Suppression of Eros
Robin May Schott
Immanuel Kant, writing at the end of the eighteenth century, is still widely considered the thinker who, more than any other, addresses the philosophical concerns of modernity. His attempt to build philosophy on a scientific basis in order to secure for it objective knowledge remains one of the dominant projects of modern philosophy. Kant's identification with the political and humanistic gains of modernity in grounding the dignity of the rational individual is so deeply entrenched in modern Western culture that in challenging Kant, one is accused of supporting the threat of barbarism that has marked the twentieth century. The contradiction between the emotions excited around Kant's philosophy and Kant's overt commitment to a conception of rationality that is purified of all emotion, leads one to question the historical, social, and emotional underpinnings of the Kantian paradigm. What is implied by Kant's insistence that knowledge and reason be pure? What pollution in the sensible, empirical world threatens the project of establishing a foundation for philosophical truth? Does the split between cognition, on the one hand, and feelings and desires on the other hand, capture the essence of knowledge, as Kant claims? Or does this split require the knower to suppress the erotic dimension of existence in order to conform to the conditions of objective knowledge?
These questions are motivated by a conception of philosophy, stemming from Marx and critical theory, as an articulation of relations in the social world. Rather than accepting Kant's claim that true philosophy is unaffected by historical change and social practices, critical social theory argues that philosophy cannot be adequately understood without a theory of history that seeks to