Functional differentiation is introduced as a defining characteristic of
modern society and one that is rarely discussed by critical theorists. The
result is that there are glaring sociological and explanatory deficits in
that literature. Systems theory is very useful for understanding
sociological realities such as functional differentiation. However,
systems-theoretical orthodoxy often assumes that social systems have to be
coded in reductively binary terms such as legal/illegal. Orthodox approaches
often suggest that social-systemic coding happens in a-historical and
automatic ways. This book therefore adopts a significantly modified version
of systems theory. The book also draws on other sources, such as Gramsci and
constitutional theory. The version of critical theory that emerges on this
basis is clearly distinct from first- and second-generation Frankfurt School
critical theory. It is also markedly distinct from a number of other
theoretical currents that see themselves as offering critical theories of
society following in the steps of the Frankfurt School.
This introduction presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book focuses on some of the main accounts of the human subject and on the conceptions of art and language which emerge within the Kantian and post-Kantian history of aesthetics. It discusses the work of two of the founding figures of aesthetics: Alexander Baumgarten and J.G. Hamann. Baumgarten's Aesthetica and Hamann's Aesthetica in nuce, begin to suggest what is at stake in the emergence of aesthetics as an independent branch of philosophy. The book describes the story of modernity told by the proponents of the 'postmodern condition', like Jean-François Lyotard, has its roots in the work of Heidegger. It also describes the power of Heidegger's ideas is evident in the way they have influenced many contemporary theories of modernity.
The importance attributed to aesthetic questions in recent philosophy becomes easier to grasp if one considers the reasons for the emergence of modern aesthetic theory. Immanuel Kant's main work on aesthetics, the 'third Critique', the Critique of Judgement (CJ), forms part of his response to unresolved questions which emerge from his Critique of Pure Reason (CPR) and Critique of Practical Reason. Dieter Henrich regards the crux of Kant's epistemology as the justification of 'forms of cognition from the form and nature of self-consciousness'. Kant's attempts to come to terms with the 'supersensuous substrate' of the subject's relationship to the object threaten to invalidate the boundary between law-bound nature and the autonomy of rational beings which was essential to the CPR. Kant himself actually follows aspects of the Enlightenment tradition of understanding music and objects, by seeing music as a 'language of emotions'.