Christian Thorne: on Skepticism and Anti-foundationalism


[Posted by BR]

Harvard University Press is scheduled to publish, in January of 2010, my colleague Christian Thorne’s first book, entitled The Dialectic of Counter-Enlightenment. Unlike most of the publications we post about on this site, Christian’s work is not invested in ordinary language philosophy — it is Adorno, not Austin or Wittgenstein or Cavell, who is Christian’s guiding star, as the book’s title clearly suggests — but his monograph’s account of the history and significance of philosophical skepticism (perhaps precisely because it is sure to differ in thought-provoking ways from someone like Cavell’s) will, I think, be of  interest to many readers of this blog. (This isn’t to suggest, by the way, that I see Adorno as necessarily incompatible with OLP: in fact, sometime in the coming weeks, I hope to write a post highlighting some writings by OLP-associated thinkers like Richard Eldridge, R.M. Berry, J.M. Bernstein, and Espen Hammer, in which deep affinities between the projects of Adorno and Wittgenstein and Cavell have been proposed.) In any case, Christian is one of the sharpest thinkers I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting, and I am confident this book will be well worth reading. I urge you to keep an eye out for it.

An excerpt from the book’s introduction is available on HUP’s website. To download it, please click here. And here is the publisher’s description of the book:

In this wide-ranging, ambitious, and engaging study, Christian Thorne confronts the history and enduring legacy of anti-foundationalist thought.

Anti-foundationalism—the skeptical line of thought that contends our beliefs cannot be authoritatively grounded and that most of what passes for knowledge is a sham—has become one of the dominant positions in contemporary criticism. Thorne argues that despite its ascendance, anti-foundationalism is wrong. In The Dialectic of Counter-Enlightenment, he uses deft readings of a range of texts to offer new perspectives on the ongoing clash between philosophy and comprehensive doubt.

The problem with anti-foundationalism is not, as is often thought, that it radiates uncertainty or will unglue the university, but instead that it is a system of thought—with set habits that generate unearned certainties. The shelves are full of histories of modern philosophy, but the history of the resistance to philosophical thought remains to be told. At its heart, The Dialectic of Counter-Enlightenment is a plea not to take doubt at its word—a plea for the return of a vanished philosophical intelligence and for the retirement of an anti-Enlightenment thinking that commits, over and over again, the very crimes that it lays at Enlightenment’s door.

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