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The Evergreen State College

Last Updated: 03/29/2008

Knowing me, Knowing Symbols

Knowing Nature

2007 - 08

Week 1 Assigment for this satellite: Read the Preface and Introduction to Kant's Critique of Judgment, using this on-line edition

Kathleen Eamon
Knowing Me, Knowing Symbols

Over the course of these ten weeks, I will be finishing my dissertation. This is an invitation to participate in discussions organized almost entirely around that work, which means you’ll be witness to the dirty work that goes into a philosophy dissertation, and I’ll be able to complete said dirty work in the context of a community and with the help of serious collaborative reading and discussion. My biggest hope is that my enthusiasm for my work with students here will enliven my scholarly work, and my enthusiasm for that scholarly work will enliven our work in common.

My dissertation is basically about our strange and strangely collective capacity to be "interested" in objects or representations that don't seem to hold out any promise of satisfaction, gratification, or use, and to be "repelled" by objects that don't seem to hold out any threat of harm. In this way, it is about us at our most unnatural. I class as “symbolic” all objects and representations to which we are thus oriented, although the task of classifying won’t be my primary one. The aim of the dissertation is to understand something about what I call “symbolic rationality”: symbol formation, expression, and recognition, as well as the social and political implications, uses, and abuses of these processes. Kant’s work on our orientation to works of art will serve as a paradigm for symbolic rationality, but we’ll cast our net widely, thinking about religion, politics, popular culture, even hobbies and neuroses.

The investigation moves forward with the help of a series of texts, which include: Kant’s Critique of Judgment, Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, Marx’s Capital, German Ideology, and the 18th Brumaire, finishing with Freud. As a way of making some amends for ignoring “reality” for so long, the final chapter will deploy its hard-won definition of symbolic rationality in an attempt to better understand the contemporary contests over marriage. This will allow us (hopefully) to make clearer some of the connections that will have emerged between this symbolic orientation to objects and representations and our ethical and political orientation to other human beings.

Since this is a fairly unconventional undertaking, we will have to work out some of the details as we move forward. I will provide, a week in advance, a substantial piece of writing for seminar discussion. In addition, we’ll read selections from the works cited in the dissertation. I will be relying on the students to help me find the best balance between my secondary work and the primary texts.