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Heidegger and Institutional Life: A Critique of Modern Politics

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Title: Heidegger and Institutional Life: A Critique of Modern Politics
Author: Robertson, Karen
Department: Department of Philosophy
Program: Philosophy
Advisor: Russon, John
Abstract: This dissertation interprets Martin Heidegger’s work to understand the institutionally mediated character of our lives and the nature and effect of modern institutions, especially modern political institutions. Chapter One argues that our basic involvement in the world is culturally and historically specific, and that we experience its specificity largely as the sense of the world we take for granted, such that how we become effective and autonomous also gives rise to blind spots with respect to whether our projects measure up adequately to possibilities of our culturally and historically specific moment. Chapter Two argues that Heidegger’s accounts of Being-with and Solicitude allow us to understand our openness to one another as realized in institutions, themselves understood as sites in which we negotiate social roles in the determinate worlds we inherit and perform; relatedly, it argues that institutional criticism begins with an accurate assessment of the contingency of institutional life and that we live up to our constitutive openness to one another when we relate reciprocally in terms of the possibilities afforded to us by our shared institutions. Chapter Three argues that Heidegger’s account of modernity informs an account of distinctly modern institutions that are distinguished from those analysed previously by their instrumental character and their suppression of the significant experience that mediates our worldly interactions. It argues further that even as modern institutions supress our capacity for meaningful experience, they present us with specific resources and with the possibility of deciding responsibly how to orient them. Chapter Four considers modern political institutions by drawing on G.H. Mead’s sociological work to argue that problems besetting modern politics can be addressed by cultivating the appropriate attitude on the part on individuals, and that Heidegger’s work on art and poetry allows us to understand this cultivation in terms of the capacity of the experience of art, especially in the context of culturally rich community life, to awaken us to our nature as interpreters, to the limits of our modern institutions with respect to that nature, and with our responsibility for owning up to possibilities of meaningful life beyond the confines of modern institutions.
Date: 2013-12
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