Critique of Rationality

Judgement and Creativity from Benjamin to Merleau-Ponty


In his Critique of Rationality, John Eustice O’Brien proposes a fascinating rectification for the distortion of technical necessity in Western Society due to unbridled instrumental reason. He begins with a review of this issue first raised by the Early German Romantics as discussed by Isaiah Berlin and Walter Benjamin. Following French social philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s radically different apperceptive epistemology, he explores the possibility of a social world in which each is anchored by a préobjective disposition to meaning based on the intersubjective presence of all. This justifies the postulate of aesthetic-consciousness as the site of socialization in communities of meaning, as a frame for judgment and creativity. The struggle must continue for awakening that consciousness if an open society is to be realized.
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Biographical Note

John Eustice O'Brien, Ph.D. (Wisconsin, 1971), formerly Professor of Sociology and Urban Studies, Portland State University, Oregon, now independent researcher in Paris, recently published, Critical Practice from Voltaire to Foucault (Brill, 2014) and two articles on the Global Political Economy in Critical Sociology (2015 & 2016).

Table of contents

Preface Acknowledgements List of Figures PART I: WHAT CRISIS OF RATIONALITY? Socrates, Make Music... 1. Overview Institutional Challenge Social Restructuring of Judgment Another Epistemology? Political Aesthetics after Marx 2. Meaning As Critical for Social Sciences The Origin of Meaning Phenomenology Merleau-Ponty’s Apperceptive Project Préobjectivity: A Better Ambiguity? Theoretical Voices on Deep Structure Marx Critique 3. Isaiah Berlin’s Romantic Uncertainty Western Rationality’s Limits? Children of Two Worlds Romantic Undefinability Beyond Enlightenment Pre-Romantic Good From Hume to the Germans? Romanticism’s Parents Romanticism Restrained Kant’s Reserves Schiller’s Tragic Romanticism Fichte’s Freedom As Necessity Romanticism Unleashed The French Revolution and Goethe Against Old Fashioned Virtue? Subjective—Objective Reversal? Romanticism’s Politics 4. Walter Benjamin’s Aesthetic Critique Benjamin’s Doctoral Trial What Does the Figure, Aesthetic-Critique, Intend? Pure Language or Creative Expression? Historical-Materialism or Historical-Idealism? Lost In The Paris Arcades On Critique Hegel and History Benjamin’s Leap into Being What Is Mental Reflection? What Is a History of Problematics? Knowledge of Nature Connaissance Esthetique Political Esthetics Benjamin’s Translator Emerges Immanent Critique Three Principles of Judgment Productivity of Bad Art Unprincipled Objectivity Were the Early Romantics Misread? Irony of Ironies: There Are Two The Paradox of Irony From Disqualified Illusion to Potent Fetish Between the Seams with Irony Critical Eschatology? On the Impossibility of Ironic Suicide There Is Form and There is Form... The Idea of Art, Then Unity and Diversity Determined Idea Transcendental Leverage Symbolic Form as Fact and Manner Novel Supremacy as Romantic Poetry The Intention of Prose Romanticism as Cultural Figure Prosaic Appreciation Outmaneuvers Bourgeois Beauty Each Critic for Herself Closing on Isaiah Berlin Closing on Walter Benjamin Revolutionary Possibilities What’s To Be Done? PART-II PHENOMENAL APPERCEPTION 5. The Crisis Of Western Rationality Existence as Fine Art? Introducing Merleau-Ponty 6. Phenomenology of Perception Not Sartre What is Phenomenology? What is Perception? Préobjectivity Historical Materialism of Social Being Existential Conception of History Dialectics from the Greeks to Marx Temporality Political Aesthetics Freedom 7. Merleau-Ponty’s Sociology Anthropology and Psychoanalytics On Husserl Appreciation before Comprehension Husserl’s Crisis Historical Relativism as Anthropological Fact Philosophy and Sociology Historical Consciousness Being Expressed as Phenomenological Method 8. Merleau-Ponty Shadow’s Husserl Husserl’s Intellectualist Phenomenology Merleau-Ponty’s Engaged Phenomenology In the Wake of the Negative Intersubjective Flash of Meaning Mobius Ribbon of Being Intentionality and Constitution 9. Aesthetic Consciousness Overview Summarizing Merleau-Ponty Préobjective Precocity Consciousness and Bodily-Being Consciousness as Active Presence 10. Closing Issues: Consciousness over Mind? Remaining Questions Auto-Critique Meaning: The Material of History Rational Analytics of Brain Consciousness Is More Than What You Think An Appeal to Social-Philosophy Consciousness vs Conscious-Access The Risk of Systemic Exuberance Intuition and Public Choice Social Cognition The Elusive Seat of Consciousness Summarizing Our Bi Studies Political Aesthetics: Consciousness and Society Closing Bibliography Index


All interested in the question of rational judgment for research, politics and culture: institutes, laboratories, policy centers, NGOS; students facing thesis challenge; professors teaching social research design and their libraries.