The Dilemma of Modernity

Philosophy, Culture, and Anti-Culture

By Lawrence Cahoone

Subjects: Philosophy
Series: SUNY series in Philosophy
Paperback : 9780887065507, 325 pages, October 1987
Hardcover : 9780887065491, 325 pages, October 1987

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Table of contents

Preface: The Dilemma


Introduction: Modernity, Philosophy, and Culture

The Modernity Debate

Philosophy as a Cultural Process

Part One

The Dynamics Of Subject And Object

Introduction to Part One

1. Subjectivism and the Transcendental Synthesis

The Pervasiveness of Subjectivism

The Subjectivist-Transcendental Synthesis

2. Forging the New Standpoint: Descartes

The Dichotomy

The Transcendental Bridge

3. Recasting the Synthesis: Kant

The Two Orders of Knowing

Relating the Two Orders

4. Philosophical Narcissism and the Radicalization of Subjectivism

The Fortunes of Subjectivism

The Psycho-Dynamic Concept of Narcissism

Philosophical Narcissism

The Dialectic of Philosophical Narcissism

5. Subjectivism without the Object: Husserl

The Project of Husserl's Late Work

The Failure of Intersubjectivity in the Cartesian Meditations

The Uninhabited Ego

Husserl and Sartre

The Enigmas of Phenomenology


6. Subjectivism without the Subject: Heidegger

The Project of Being and Time

Dasein and Disclosedness

Levinas and the Emptiness of Dasein

The Collapse of Heidegger's Concept of World


Part Two

The Theory of Modernity

Introduction to Part Two

7. Enlightenment and Narcissism: Adorno, Horkheimer, and Lasch

The Dialectical Theory

A Flaw in the Theory

8. The Cultural Theory and the Rise of Anti-Culture

Cultural versus Dialectical Perspectives

Cultural Subjectivism and Anti-Culture

Part Three The Cultural Dimension

Introduction to Part Three

9. Anti-Culture and the Alleged Death of Philosophy

The Limits of Subjectivism

Anti-Cultural Philosophy


10. The Metaphysics of Culture: A Pluralist-Naturalist View

Integrity and Relation

The Concept of Culture

Culture and Mind: Winnicott, Cassirer, and Dewey

Culture and Nature

Epilogue: Humanism, Democracy, and Culture

Jackboots on the Stairs

Anti-Culture and American Democracy

Not an Epitaph





The development of modern culture along subjectivist lines has led to an analogue of psychological narcissism—to philosophical narcissism—in the culture. The intrinsic value of human cultural activity has been lost, and the intellectual foundation of the modern world-view has been destroyed.

Cahoone carefully develops the idea of subjectivity and narcissism using psychological theory, the dialectical theory of the Frankfurt school, and historians. The core of his interpretive argument is developed through careful analysis of Descartes and Kant as well as of Husserl and Heidegger. Cahoone maintains a carefully controlled continuity between the analysis of philosophic positions and what they reveal about culture.

In the conclusion, he moves toward a recreation of culture in non-subjectivist naturalism. Insights are drawn from Freud, Fairbairne, Winnicott, Kohut, Sennett, Lasch, Horkheimer, Adorno, Dewey, Cassirer, Kundera, and Buchler.

Lawrence E. Cahoone is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Boston University.


"I believe this is the most original and creative philosophy of modern Western culture since The Dialectic of Enlightenment in the 1940s. It shows how even the critics from whom the book draws insights remain within the confines of subjectivism. Cahoone's argument for a non-subjectivist culture, and for non-subjectivist philosophy of culture, makes a decisive contribution to the restoration of philosophy to its proper and needed cultural role." — Robert Cummings Neville