Contemporary societies around the globe are characterised by the difficulties
and discoveries inherent in trying to co-ordinate the functions of discrete
social systems, each of which is steered by a unique code. Social systems
have been in existence as long as there have been human societies. They have
been managed, to greater and lesser extents, by a wide variety of power
structures operative within diverse forms of statehood. Politically
constituted modern states had to perform and continue to perform this
immense task of co-ordinating social systems. Governments and state
ministries have tended to try to do so without paying sufficient attention
to the details of systemic coding or historical patterns of inter-systemic
communication, thereby mismanaging the processes involved in many cases.
States are still desperately trying to channel systems on the basis of
strategic decisions stemming from informal assemblies of ministerial elites,
consultancy firms, lobbies, and what in effect amount to different kinds of
private clients. These are usually vantage points with little theoretical or
social proximity to the specific systems in question, thus reinforcing the
patterns of governance that misdirect systems whilst simultaneously
coercively integrating citizens. Individual systems cannot significantly
enhance their respective capacities for self-steering without knowledge
about the functioning of neighbouring systems. Critical Theory and
Sociological Theory investigates the extent to which this particular
knowledge process is changing, and if systems increasingly require the input
of citizens capable of thinking and acting more flexibly than binary codes
permit. Therein lies the epistemological and political significance of the
distinction between mediated unity and mediated non-identity. Adorno’s
dictum that ‘the critique of knowledge is social critique and vice versa’
can be fruitfully elaborated today with this in mind.
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'.