The Present Situation of Social Philosophy and the Tasks of an Institute for Social Research

Although social philosophy may be at the center of the broader interest in philosophy, its status is no better than that of most contemporary philosophical or fundamental intellectual efforts. No substantive conceptual configuration of social philosophy could assert a claim to general validity. In light of the current intellectual situation, in which traditional disciplinary boundaries have been called into question and will remain unclear for the foreseeable future, it does not appear timely to attempt to delineate conclusively the various areas of research. Nonetheless, the general conceptions that one connects with social philosophy can be put concisely. Its ultimate aim is the philosophical interpretation of the vicissitudes of human fate – the fate of humans not as mere individuals, however, but as members of a community. It is thus above all concerned with phenomena that can only be understood in the context of human social life: with the state, law, economy, religion – in short, with the entire material and intellectual culture of humanity. Understood in this way, social philosophy grew into a decisive philosophical task in the course of the development of classical German idealism. The most compelling aspects of the Hegelian system are the supreme achievements of that type of social philosophy. This is not to say that philosophy before Hegel had not been concerned with matters of social philosophy; to the contrary, Kant’s major works contain philosophical theories concerning the knowledge of law, of art, and of religion. But this social philosophy was rooted in the philosophy of the isolated subject [Einzelpersonlichkeit]; those spheres of being were understood as projections [Entw├╝rfe] of the autonomous person. Kant made the closed unity of the rational subject into the exclusive source of the constitutive principles of each cultural sphere; the essence and the organization of culture were to be made comprehensible solely on the basis of the dynamics of the individual, the fundamental modes of activity of the spontaneous ego. Even if the autonomous subject could hardly be equated with the empirical individual in Kant’s philosophy, one was nonetheless supposed to be able to investigate all possible culturally creative factors in the mind of each individual rational being. Overarching structures of being which could only belong to a supraindividual whole, which could only be discovered in the social totality, and to which we must subordinate ourselves, do not exist in this conception. To assert their existence would be considered dogmatic, and action oriented to them would be considered heteronomous. In the Metaphysical Principles of Virtue, Kant writes of the moral subject that a person “is subject to no laws other than those that it gives to itself (either alone or at least together with others).”


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