Confrontations with Modernity
This essay compares how four important figures in German philosophy have reacted in important ways to the phenomenon of modernity and some of the problems it poses. Kant’s project of the Enlightenment suggests a generally positive assessment of modernity at the same time as he tries to face the challenge that a physicalist model of causality poses for traditional notions of moral responsibility. Hegel represents the nineteenth century’s stronger reservations about one-sided orientations of the model of self-interested individuals, and he presents an alternative in his Philosophy of Right that recognizes the modern claims of subjectivity and balances it with the emphasis on the social and historical rootedness of those individuals and thereby highlights the importance of context and the need for a state regulation of modern market economies. This is also consistent with Husserl’s resistance to reductionist theories of all kinds oriented too one-sidedly on the models provided by modern natural science. Finally the essay shows how Heidegger’s critique of technology represents a powerful extension of that general project. It closes with a note that one response consistent with these insights has been the tendency of modern European states in the second half of the twentieth century to propose appropriate regulations on markets that helped them better serve the general good. The emergence of globalization that tends to undermine the power of individual states to regulate and control these powerful market forces presents a new challenge to societies across the globe to find similar ways of harnessing the power of modern technologies and markets in positive ways.