Law, money, educational training, knowledge, politics, and power play some
role in the workings of each social system. Yet it would be wrong to suppose
that social systems are states in miniature. It would also be wrong to
suppose that social systems function like regional states within an
overarching nation state. Modern societies are constituted in ways that
enable a specific social system, designated as the political system, to
emerge and assume responsibility for the impersonal sharing and transfer of
power. Attempts to strategically de-differentiate systems for the purposes
of taking control and steering them have lead in some instances to the
re-personalisation of the exercise of power, corruption, and other kinds of
democratic deficits. It is no longer feasible to imagine political authority
as having a pyramidal structure that absorbs democratic inputs in a
vertically structured process culminating in the state. Similarly, it is no
longer possible to see the fundamentally important constitutional dimension
of statehood as being limited to the official separation of legislative,
executive, and judicial powers. Statehood today has to be reappraised in
light of the potentially constitutional dimensions of social systems and the
possibilities for inter-systemic communication.
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'.