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Solving the Unsolvable: Western Responses to Otherness From Saint Augustine

Solving the Unsolvable: Western Responses to Otherness From Saint Augustine

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Title: Solving the Unsolvable: Western Responses to Otherness From Saint Augustine
Author: Cicalo, Jordan Christopher
Abstract: Theodor Adorno's writings on the interdependence of subject and object provided the impetus for this project. Following Adorno the work argues that agency comes from an awareness of the limitations of one's conception of the world and more generally of the existence of an external world beyond human determinations. In order to avoid the pitfalls of an unintelligible jargon through an abstract discussion that runs the risk of becoming esoteric, I then looks at concrete examples, instances in the past, of individuals struggling to find what they took to be an authentic subjectivity and, intertwined with this, a means of coming to terms with otherness. At the same time, I attempt to show by way of these examples—the point of origin for what I take to be ideologies that sought to eliminate the place for the subject. My intention is to examine the genesis of the Western expectation that otherness was something ephemeral, or illusory, something that could be definitively overcome. By virtue of the interdependence of subject and object, and in turn of agency as a product of the recognition of the non-identical, I argue that it is by tracing this moment and its implications that one can also find the starting point for, and thus have a better understanding of, contemporary attempts to eliminate, or constrain, the subject. As with Adorno's negative dialectics I want to clear a path to otherness through showing the failure of man's conceptions, but in this case through showing the failures of man's conceptions of himself rather than the failures of his conceptions of the external world.

It is my contention that Saint Augustine’s theology, with his City of God especially as its culmination, present a kind of threshold for this kind of thinking, a point at which the wave of humility before the object and doubts about man’s place in the universe and his destiny, that perhaps prior to him had risen and fallen, finally broke and never rolled back. Every component of his thought was geared toward not simply transcending but definitively solving otherness. Augustine envisioned human beings as actually responsible for non-identity's existence and so as capable of doing away with it through orientating their action in such a way as to remedy the primordial error that was its cause. Paradoxically for Augustine it was agency itself that was the problem, man's self assertion had caused him to fall away from his divine nature, yet the error that accompanied Adam's agency could be cancelled out by obedient human action. Totality, obedience, and man as the cause of otherness were interlinked, inextricable elements of his approach. Following the discussion of Augustine's theology I proceed to examine the origins and characteristics of three other transformative ideologies or worldviews in Western history; the idealistic, the social, and the transcendental of Francesco Petrarch, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Arthur de Gobineau respectively. The crux of my argument is that the unique characteristics of Augustine's search for certainty created a sort of sure and stable foundation on which later ideologies which restricted the subject, so as to solve non-identity, could build and flourish. I show how each stemmed from individual attempts to come to terms with the otherness that overshadows human existence by putting forth definitive answers to the question of what man is.

By contrasting the figures I then show, in the conclusion of this work, that Augustine's approach while powerful and reassuring was ultimately self-destructive. This is because Augustine's monolithic conception of human nature limited man's ability to appreciate and work with otherness and at the same time it created an expectation that human understanding should ultimately be error free. As becomes clear at the end of the project, the restriction of agency to contend with non-identity ultimately had the effect of eliminating non-identity itself. Reality came increasingly to be perceived as mundane and self-evident as the importance attributed to the subject diminished in the later figures, thereby demonstrating by way of example the interdependence of the two as Adorno argued. While the works examined constitute a niche in intellectual history it is nonetheless a highly influential one. This dissertation, at the very least, identifies an approach to non-identity and a conception of the subject that was a counterpart, perhaps even a predecessor or progenitor, to the rationality that predominates in modernity and which the critical theorists of the Frankfurt School criticized so vociferously.
Subject: Epistemology
European history
Sociology
Keywords: Epistemology
Ethics
Theodor Adorno
Walter Benjamin
Max Horkheimer
Dialectics at a Standstill
Critical Theory
Frankfurt School
Subject Object Problem
Subject Object Divide
Subject
Object
Agency
Non-Identity
Externality
Ontology
Instrumental Rationality
Instrumental Reason
Dialectic of Enlightenment
Alienation
Otherness
Philosophy of History
Dehumanization
Historiography
Saint Augustine
Petrarch
Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Arthur de Gobineau
Intellectual History
Historical Consciousness
Ideology
Worldview
Original Sin
Christian Theology
Authenticity
Subjectivity
Creativity
European History
Garden of Eden
Paradise
Freedom
Deliverance
Reconciliation
Salvation
Fall of Rome
Paradigm Shift
Objectivism
Neo-Platonism
Christian History
Western History
Totality
Universalizing Theories
Human Nature
Late Antiquity
Modernity
Totalitarianism
Benedetto Croce
R. G. Collingwood
Historical Methodology
Immediacy
Human Triumphalism
Human Exceptionalism
Western Triumphalism
Western Exceptionalism
Race
Racialism
Race Theory
Aryans
Aryanism
Social Contract
Emile
State of nature
Discourse on Inequality
Discourse on the Arts and Sciences
Renaissance
Autarkei
Autarchy
Scholasticism
Judgement Day
City of God
De Civitate Dei
On the Trinity
De Trinitate
Confessions
Secretum
De Remediis Utriusque Fortunae
Remedies for Fortunes Fair and Foul
Negative Dialectics
Aesthetic Theory
Ontological Subject
Philosophers
Transcendental
Eighteenth Century France
The Social
Aporias
Problematics
Identity
Identity Thinking
Herbert Marcuse
One Dimensional Man
Discovery of Society
Discovery of Individuality
Church Dogma
Middle Ages
Dark Ages
Enlightenment
Nationalism
Nation-State
Citizen of Geneva
Humanism
Humanist
Manichaeism
Church Fathers
Fathers of the Church
Bishop of Hippo Regius
Fall of Man
The Fall
Primordial Error
Primordial Past
Augustinian Studies
Race Conflict
Humanist Movement
Francesco Petrarch
The Fall of Man
New Adam
Max Weber
Third Reich
Houston Stewart Chamberlain
Nazism
Systems of Thought
Eschatology
Chiliasm
Millennialism
German Reich
Pan-Germanism
Primeval Error
Western History
European History
Western Intellectual History
European Intellectual History
Theories of Knowledge
Type: Electronic Thesis or Dissertation
Rights: Author owns copyright, except where explicitly noted. Please contact the author directly with licensing requests.
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/10315/30674
Supervisor: Walsh, Philip D.
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Program: Sociology
Exam date: 2015-07-07
Publish on: 2015-12-16

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