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Blumenberg and the Modernity Problem Author(s): Robert B. Pippin Source: The Review of Metaphysics, Vol. 40, No.

3 (Mar., 1987), pp. 535-557 Published by: Philosophy Education Society Inc. Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/20128488 . Accessed: 27/05/2013 17:34
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CRITICAL STUDY

BLUMENBERG AND THE MODERNITY PROBLEM


ROBERT B. PIPPIN
C'est curieux comme le point de vue diff?re, fruit du crime ou de la l?gitimit?. suivant qu'on Andr? est le

Gide1

J.

here

IS A GREAT

and

confusing

irony

in what Western

many

regard

as tra half

the culmination dition, of the nineteenth suddenly

the culmination

of the post-Enlightenment of "modernity." century, surprisingly the

Sometime

European in the latter

seemed

self-satisfied, unjustifiably or of a premodern, consciousness gious or of an ancient of Being. forgetting "modern" to have fulfilling composer, of a great

new rather the radically story goes, "outdated" because old, self-deceived, an expression of an older, reli "really" will to power, primitive In such a context, to be truly of or side the even

to be "modernist," and the irony) was (here the confusion seen modernity to its conclusion and to find it incapable its promise or thinker, historical of a new one could across beginning. stand resolutely from which As painter, on the could or poet, other now see

or Augustine of say, and Bacon, and Descartes, continuity of the option the historical and could they all represent, collapse to the whole say goodbye territory. In the long aftermath of such modernist the about suspicions still dominant "official" Enlightenment culture, the very title of the

abyss, Socrates

one

recently
invitation Blumenberg,

translated

book by Hans

Blumenberg

is a bluntly direct
For Age. at the stake

to controversy?The when Giordano

of the Modern Legitimacy to burn condemned Bruno,

was from Les Faux?Monnayeurs the epigram to quotation 1966 of Die version der Neuzeit not does Blumenberg's Legitimit?t (and All quotations cited in the text are from appear inWallace's translation). Robert N. Wallace's translation of Hans Blumenberg's The Legitimacy of The Modem of Technology Institute Age (Cambridge: Massachusetts Press, 1983).
Review Metaphysics of Metaphysics 40 (March 1987): 535-557. Copyright ? 1987 by the Review of

1 This

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536
in 1600, defiantly
last chance heroic that, the Incarnation, "The thought. modernity the other menberg at redemption, and historically and Nolan" the the heroic decisive,

ROBERT B. PIPPIN turned his face from a crucifix offered him as a


should be seen as just gesture a rejection of the reality of a decisively threshold new that form of

separates on Bruno his from (and counterpart pre-modernity a of Cusa). The new, for Blu side of such line, Nicolas more is new, not belated, and what's heretical still in our from better than the old. world, post-Heideggerean a in of modernity is, "legitimate." simple word, from and wrote others The

of expression cross a did real

post-Nietzschean, "self-assertion"

When
such or spirited indirectly has

his book first appeared


responses criticized L?with, in it, that for

it provoked so much debate, and


Gadamer, Blumenberg directly an altered and

expanded
Wallace ogy Press

second edition
translated Studies series

(1976), and it is this version


the Massachusetts Institute German in Contemporary moves creates natural from a kind audience,

that Robert
of Technol Thought.

Social

Much of the book still supports the weight


exchange, with his for which or Europe. of modern but once Blumenberg he almost opponents, there He is no clear not only wants

of such a heavy academic


the details of issue of his dispute and argument in America

whether

(already he wants Ideengeschichte), This latter he uses. gitimation speculative" philosophy philosophy of history,

science

to legitimate of the heroes the motives a task beyond of standard the scope to define and defend the criterion of le

an "anti leads him to propose goal an of history that is, nevertheless, ambitious one no with clear although again precedents.

At his most

ambitious:

from the idea that there is a We are going to have to free ourselves that throughout and with firm canon of 'the great questions' history an unchanging and motivated urgency have occupied human curiosity to world and self-interpretation, the pretension (p. 65) If this pendent serlian claim way, is correct, and, a priori, either as it seems to imply, there is no inde

or naturalistically,

or pragmatically,

or through a methodological
or Heideggerean us not variety)

phenomenology
to determine

(of a Hegelian,
which questions

Hus
must

be asked and so which are "legitimate,"


to show answered convince

then it falls to Blumenberg

one that needs to be becomes only how a question should that need but also how and why in some epoch, a criterion us that the question that seems is legitimate,

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BLUMENBERG ON MODERNITY
to imply far more than historical urgency. These are the two

537
issues

Iwant to discuss
narrative, and

in the following, Blumenberg's


more philosophic

sweeping historical
strategy."

his much

"legitimation

I shall argue that, for all of its value in challenging much modernist
dogma, Blumenberg's To make such of his he wants historical to say Strauss book, now a case famous does not succeed. justly project a good deal to review it will be necessary since much the of for what itself, proof And when one does begin to digest Blu can look

narrative

is in the details.

these details, particularly


Gadamer, menberg's for all

in the intimidating
even Nietzsche and its six hundred

context of L?with and


and Heidegger, seventy pages,

and Arendt,

modest. deceptively His approach to defending mitted looks academic

to the "problem" the progressive narrow

while of modernity, nature of the modern with such

clearly

com

and

compared and his

colleagues.

enterprise, His

focus is for the most part on the late Scholastic


philosophic-scientific that demonstration were tradition the very if not goal particular autonomous there one questions

and early modern


throughout during this a asked

remains

new, period were "legitimate." Again, though, and implied by such an approach the modern historical, sisting intellectual tradition

even

and that they questions, a larger dimension is always often discussed i.e., explicitly;

the firm rejection of any "holism" that would


in some or ontological) that the question

engulf the origins of


(either social, or

larger

is quite in origin. Blumenberg clearly or of the modern of the significance meaning or progress, nature, rationality, context limited than "dialogic"

of knowledge, point of view, whether a more can only be asked in much There is often assumed. are, his only only as a result such questions, his argument) these kinds

to show, tries approach always in of questions this context asked being (and these of those, earlier), these difficulties encountered within and only likes possible of Horkheimer these Or, (I infer from responses.2 were wrong and Adorno to

the

look for the "dialectic" Enlightenment

of Enlightenment within the concept of rationality; they could not have possibly understood

2 was pictured Cf. "In a cartoon by Jean Effel in L'Express, DeGaulle 'Gentlemen! Now will you please opening a press conference with the words, to my answers!' give me the questions Something along those lines would serve to describe the procedure that would have to be employed in inter the logic of a historical to the ones preceding it" preting epoch in relation p. 379.

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538
that concept without
veloped.3 In sum,

ROBERT B. PIPPIN the details of the dialogue out of which


attack on perennialist, intellectual the "great speculative revolution

it de
phi

Blumenberg's does not defend

losophies
mation comparing

of history
it to other

obligates
attempts an a-historical and his

him to defend a criterion


the modern to answer test

of legiti
by

that

applying by simply and premodernity), plies an interpretation

isolation

of rationality of the scientific tradition that

questions" (or to modernity revolution insists on im iden

of the modern

at stake the particular of opposition" in each sphere "dialogue tifying or a plurality in modernity, and resists such of reducing collapsing no set of great questions There is that spans all of history, questions. Geist or totality within which modern and there is no modern science is a subsidiary phenomenon. Or summed up more simply, and much of

Blumenberg's
able

legitimation

of modernity

will come down to his being


"modernity,"

to justify his own notions of "legitimation" even if often that are challenging notions elusive. Of equately course, without these more attention Iwant four "The issues systematic to Blumenberg's on the most study, parts of his cannot

lowing sections in each of the larization," Theoretical

to focus

be pursued ad In the fol analysis. controversial components I will "Secu designate "The Liberation of

parts Christian

Curiosity,"

and

Contradiction," "The Epochality

of Modernity."

I Secularization. its own theory, owes The entire in a way nicely to a specific consistent 1962 with

book, genesis

its own

"dialogue"

with Karl L?with concerning


3

the origin and significance

of the mod

It is this aspect of Blumenberg's de that, if successfully approach some what of Richard would Rorty has recently been fended, help support intellectual saying about how we ought to read the story of the modern "Those of tradition. Rorty has gone so far as to write about Blumenberg, us who agree with Nietzsche and Heidegger that the philosophical tradition that the arts and the is pretty well played out, with Carlyle and Foucault and with Marxists that we should sciences have not been unmixed blessings, not believe what the lying capitalist press tells us about the modern world, but whose hopes are still those of Mill, now have a champion." highest London Review (16 June-6 July 1983) p. 3. of Books

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BLUMENBERG ON MODERNITY
ern more idea of "progress," concerning specifically and that such is infinite tion that there progress of human history. not At the heart of that the modern progress dispute

539
no is the is the

"meaning"

question of whether
respects progressive,

the modern belief that history


static, cyclical or chaotic,

is in all decisive
is a "seculariza

tion" of Christian eschatology; whether the centrality of the modern belief that present effort will become one day "redeemed" by future
success a version doctrines menberg progress practices themes. could of of only come the linear Incarnation as that meaning and centrality of the required interpretation history by as Blu and Last Moreover, Judgment. out throughout this section, the problem of to acquire

rightly is only often From

points one example of a large array of modern views and to attributed the secularization of Christian casually Western Civilization one can hear to sociology seminars, and authoritatively frequently success is a secularization of Ref courses, and salvation, self-denial that and the modern the ethics

to intellectual that the

chit-chat,

ormation work ethic

capitalist doctrines

on emphasis of predestination

is a secularization

of Christian

that modern, self-disclosive literature of saintliness, that the modern confessional version of pietistic, literature, quest a is at secure sal for epistemological secularized attempt certainty a view of is that the modern secularization vation, political equality of Christian hears are not that equality many before God. Or, in a different context, one of modern notions of political aspects authority from modern of contract, and right, principles as secular be regarded versions of divine author of a Communist millenium that rep science

is a secularized

derivable and must

freedom

Judgment, perhaps all this represents, of course, And, religion. a quite at first glance, natural much of modernity. of explanation us few "sacred" We do see around and much things, yet "devoutly" us sources toward of belief when believed, vestigial religious pointing we realize that the modern tradition has not produced philosophical itself is simply "our" remotely resembling anything of the modern Moreover, project. founding, a complete to the suspension connections a universal the Cartesian of all prior with "foundation" for much of modernity's myth belief and an autoch

notions ity, or even that Marxist a secularization resent of the Last

thonous beginning,
pointing myth, inevitable.

is so extreme that historicist


premodern

debunkings
religiosity,

of this
were

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540
But progress allow ularization author focuses argument Blumenberg's and on L?with's secularization a very theme for whom one wide range within a good thesis.4

ROBERT B. PIPPIN
deal This on the focus the he issue does large selects is a secular of not sec an

him

which

Concentrating that a modern demonstrating

itself.

to pursue on L?with notion

is, ipso facto, of modernity's aspect self-understanding are several secularization theorists for whom There that not way the case the obvious (Hegel being example). of Blumenberg's he does approach,

ized Christian

to "de-legitimate"

it, to show that is a self-delusion. is decidedly in a Nevertheless, manage to say a that

typical

with L?with (and later number of things in his Auseinandersetzung von in this section, with Weizs?cker, Carl Schmitt and others), that
are clearly intended to address the is simple. He presents not have provided the basis could ogy simply it is incorrect that and he argues progress, argument that notions issue. His general that Christian evidence for modern in general particular eschatol notions to suggest of

a grow of history somehow "entered" eschatological in that con and were transformed exogenously ingly secular world of Secularization of Eschatology, Seculariza "Instead text. Rather tion by Eschatology"; or, notion the eschatological salvation internal from view secularized itself.

In support of the former, he argues for disanalogy


the idea eschatological of progress future of an without,

by pointing
whereas

to
the

to the

with

and the ories; of the transfer the makes ends up secular

generation; required eschatology not the hope of progress the fear or foreboding, a not of "infinite could have been notion progress" divine attribute infinite that of of an with history infinity or even task more "divine" In support eschatology It was but to human indefinite history, historical not since task

looks

notion

a reconciliation not form out rendering of

difficult, an occasion of the

it easier; for a de claim, he

pressing points

that New

resignation. Testament

latter itself

is not

translatable

into any concept of history since its true impact is to devalue history
completely idence that in favor Christ of salvation. was not returning only with soon anytime the growing that a new ev view

4 introduction and his article Cf. Wallace's Secu "Progress, helpful The L?with/Blumenberg larization and Modernity: debate," New German in a moment, I do not agree As will be apparent Critique 22 (1981): 63-79. has answered with Wallace that Blumenberg all of L?with's criticisms. 15 (1968): Cf. L?with's review of Blumenberg, Rundschau Philosophische 195-201.

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BLUMENBERG ON MODERNITY of the world


Christian

541 had to develop


under Blumenberg the pressure

and human history


and that

(internal
means of

to the

tradition), ing that the eschatological view, fulfilled "secularized" prophecy, to reconcile within that tradition a fallen What world.

is what

by claim its own un was made of

that an attempt itself, man to the continued

existence

is surprising, though, I of the book, is that Blumenberg what is at stake in this critique disanalogies views should that just between cause

about

all of the arguments makes clear After

in Part exactly the

only rarely of secularization.

all,

the eschatological and modern progressive no great concern to L?with. He is not claiming the modern of progress notion is Christian but eschatology, that no explanation the idea of progress of why became such a one in Western intellectual on a Christian

can dispense a with history as a whole that human assumption history some redeeming must mere to have it. The fact of progress point or physics in astronomy to explain is insufficient that assumption; powerful reliance

it is hardly a perennial
have it), and so must Christian tradition. schean

human presupposition
be due somehow with

(the Greeks did not

L?with, assume does often that pointing agenda, breezily Christian to "horizon" is necessary enough delegitimate, the claim that the modern belief in progress self-deceived, rational, tique really goes to the core of what rather like marginal qualifications. More the when surprisingly, agrees all his with and therewith but not much L?with

Now

to a lingering effect of the his own Greek and Nietz out expose this as

modern

is wholly of Blumenberg's cri wants to say; they seem

enough, Blumenberg others claim. For of progress of sorts as the of the one,

criticism,

are expressed issues carefully a good deal of what L?with and he agrees that the modern view as a whole is an is a remnant even inappropriate, its parentage to modernity is no secularization of a pre of a territory that the Chris

"significance"

illegitimate itself. He modern

premodern one that

of history and tradition, trace

cannot

argues,

content, not resist

that there though, a just "re-occupation" to invade

tian tradition had mapped


could trying

out, and that modernity


in a new way.

("tragically")

to decline to age found it impossible Thus, as we know, the modern answer questions about the totality of history. To that extent the of history is an attempt a medieval to answer philosophy question with the means to a post-medieval available In this process, the age.

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542
is driven to a level of generality idea of progress and objectively circumscribed regionally (pp. 48-49)

ROBERT B. PIPPIN
that overextends its limited range as an

original, assertion, Given be a stake

a reader might what could wonder this, however, versus in "secularization" models, "re-occupation"

possibly or just

what

inmodernity

is being "legitimated"
is, it is admitted, turns real on what issue

if so much of the territory


not its own. But again,

modernity since or a very

"re-occupies" deal The

this problem exemplifies much of what


great issues. semantic has

is so interesting
seem to be little The to do, nature

in this book,

such microscopic I think, with of, and moti more at a is much

L?with, vation stake

or von Weizs?cker for, conceptual for Blumenberg. internal how the

or Schmitt. change As noted within

a tradition

completely that shows possible

narrative "assertions" to the deep,

he earlier, of one decisive of the modern contradictory

is out change, epoch problems

to construct a narrative were the only created

responses

by

the Christian intellectual tradition, and he is out to assert (mostly to imply) that his approach is the only way that questions about
continuity, looking account formal at or paradigms, can things" own or legitimation, or even just "our way of be posed. this sense, (In recalling Hegel's or "external," of the possibility denial of a priori, and critiques, or narrative one could call Blumenberg's of "epochal"

of his

epistemologies an internal narrative

to me that to some expla It seems change.) it impossible to answer of why "the modern nation age found ques or what means of history," tions about the totality Blumenberg by of certain inherited and why the "non-negotiability" he questions,

phenomenology this will commit him

thinks the intellectual tradition can be isolated in an almost pristine independence. But for the moment, his task is to show the Christian
tradition prelude here a variety generated to a modern "solution." itself of hopeless dilemmas, all as a

The Christian Contradiction.


is as fascinating as

The story Blumenberg


to summarize,

has to tell
sum

it is difficult

or rather

marize
whole metic

adequately.
theory claim:

He begins

the section himself


concise, is the

by stating

his

in a wonderfully "The modern age achievements

her although intriguingly of second Gnosti overcoming

cism" (p. 126). What


of the great

could this possibly mean?


of the book to make

Indeed, it is one
this bizarre thesis

quite plausible

though the extremely detailed evidence for the claim

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BLUMENBERG ON MODERNITY
cannot into be summarized two parts. First, challenging it is more tradition difficult the Blumenberg heresy, consistent than here. Roughly, Gnosticism the argument as

543
can be divided

most Christianity's for all of its own problems, because, primarily tenets of the early Christian with essential treats officialdom. God's and absolute others Given the enormously as creator with theo

"nonheretical"

of reconciling problem of evil, Marcion existence

power an enviable enjoyed

retical advantage
for the evil of viously, in order

by arguing
to reconcile

that God simply was not responsible


world; God the the demiurge creator omnipotent "bad" was. with Ob God

the material

the Redeemer (with a God who "needed" to redeem the world he had himself omnipotently erected), official Christianity had to hold
on to the notion of God of evil. explanation and his "first" overcoming or the demiurgos responsible and "supreme," enormous the Hence of Gnosticism for evil and come up with an alternate of Augustine not God his freedom. importance by making this through absolute to grow

man,

But, as Blumenberg
price of continuing and omnipotence,

tells it, this was a resolution bought at the high


to hold to the notion notion of God's that came an explosive sovereignty more and

more unstable
especially "divine" of divine and

as it worked
the

its way
of

through the Middle Ages;


this notion of omnipotence

this
and

because

correlate

human evil is the beginning


order in the world.

of the disappearance
When the

of the idea of any

any comes to be regarded

of the notion implications are worked to their logical conclusion, through omnipotence or plan or point to the world coherence claim for a rational as an unacceptable limitation on God's power,

then this Ordnungschwund


modern made him "self-assertion." for the first time

has prepared
("The destruction a creatively active

the possibility
of trust being, freed

for the
him from

in the world

a disastrous
This issues are

lulling of his activity"


raises several the most important,

[p. 139]).

account

of the scholarly questions. Many to discuss and the most difficult

briefly. Did the legacy of the Gnostic challenge "live on" within the Christian intellectual tradition in as dominating and infecting a
as Blumenberg ments of the notion way Did suggests? of an omnipotent of God and the God ever play accelerating as decisive require a role in

the destruction
nalism, the

of the possibility

of teleology,
the

the growth of nomi


character of

"hiddenness"

"abandoned"

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544 the world?


modern assertion"? ence, relation and

ROBERT B. PIPPIN Did all of this contribute


of the world much of this a kind Many under How how much of issues?

decisively
the banner

to the origin of the


of human historical of the interpretive "self influ logical issues

"retrieval"

is a story of actual of "ideal" phenomenology speculative

of the more

are so compressed
on them.

that it would be difficult to engage Blumenberg

Is he portraying the origin of the modern directly concept as mere in to of nature motion, material, (matter eventually Stoff, or a as to be controlled tied such theological "mastered") tradition, that the notion represents, or can only be understood as a "re-oc

cupation" of, a theologically defined territory is located at the dead end of that tradition)?
most interesting, though undiscussed issues

(even if that territory I find this one of the


in the book. There are

hints

of how Blumenberg
argument that

would

respond

in his

brief

use

of

Nietzsche's

the modern

scientific

enterprise

could

not free itself from its Christian, (See pp. 139-43.)


But, question assuming in keeping with that can be asked scholarly of the decisive his general (of a Cartesian its the here

especially teleological assumptions.


above, developed is whether Blumenberg's contribute the central

context

account? to an under

standing he can defend the epochs

plausibility?can of the modern origins claim that there or Kuhnean thematic.

point is neither

of view, whether a "gap" between kind), this nor a

or Foucaultean To advance second

repetition an intriguing he adopts in the strategy section. He tries to show the importance the issue of why problematic by raising world-view we now associate with

of the Christian

large claim, claim of this major of this Christian-Gnostic and goals, to arise prior

the motivation, did not modernity

the Christian
have arisen,

project;

indeed, when

it might

seem most

likely to

as a consequence atomism and, and was

of Epicurus's

atomism.5

What
mocritean

he tries to show is how very different

the revival of De
of Epicurus absolutism, tra

and Lucretius, voluntarism,

the context in, on the one hand, on the other, in the context of divine uncertainty that the

the world's

theological

5 in a much more focused example of Blumenberg's interested Readers Welt (Frank method should consult his Die Genesis der Kopemikanischen also tries to show how Coper furt: Suhrkamp, 1975). There Blumenberg and illusions, nicus did not simply revolt against a tradition full of mistakes itself created the "possibility" of Copernicus but that that tradition (and as opposed so can explain the impact of Copernicus to, say, Aristarchus).

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BLUMENBERG ON MODERNITY
dition had created. Without the latter context, Epicurus man's could,

545
in

to "neutralize" to attempt to relation "afford" effect, simply was a nature His view that of the cosmos. would goal legitimate to nature, of indifference the stoic ataraxia. This the possibility a was if that mechanistic atomism that assumed correct, clearly would that be all nature or make to promote be required reasonable "neutralizable" enough intellectually unthreatening to "exclude to do was all Epicurus needed uncertainties," that would was certainties" (p. 182). However in, for example, (as well far more Descartes'

so that not

"create

case, the historical


tional connection

developments
between the world

that had led to a lack of any ra


and God as the expec

tation that there ought to be) had rendered the insecurity, uncer
and potential of nature deceptiveness than in the Stoic context. Thus, threatening mean to of the world had something teriality tainty duction of the world which would and pressing for Descartes, the ma In fact, "Re a theoretical

different.

proposition, but rather

to pure materiality is not primarily a traditional to compete with have itself of

a postulate of reason assuring in the world?a of self-assertion" postulate

truth, its possibilities

(p. 205-10).

The theological
anything the explicit "indifferent" had master to protect was possible postulate to the himself

tradition

had in effect created


world, could and not, now,

the fear that


asserted to be afford

in the material of materiality practical from this fear

one who

consequences and

of that materiality; he He to had uncertainty.

in that context it is only that a mechanistic nature, and, or any potentially scientific view of the world, atomism, generates a research is for a continuing that there any motivation project, inquiry All into the details creates of material an unusual events. I think, welcome of picture It does not take his foun value, and many grounds he argues of this

especially early modernity, dationalist metaphysical of Descartes' theoretical

but, of Descartes. at face

project claims

in a practical

intention; the surface

that that intention, understood


gitimation for such ture.6 of Descartes'

in its historical
rather than

context,

is the le
candidates

project, a foundation, the cogito-clear and distinct struc ideas-God It would here to compare be interesting account Blumenberg's

6 and theoretical the practical issues are not inconsistent, but Clearly, the important issue is that of priority, on the and given some decision of the Cartesian texts. issue, how one reads the totality

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546
with of Leo a similar Strauss. emphasis

ROBERT B. PIPPIN
on the practical of modernity?that origins the issues are in some cases complicated Although in Strauss and Straussean of esotericism, interpre intention for which post is often a kind of political scientism, or first of any philosophy or otiose. However, the origin and insistence suf on and for

by the problem that practical tations, a "will" kind often, to mastery wholly the is either within

metaphysics facto, a Trojan des anciens

"quarelle

horse, et des modernes,"

of that "will" is explained


antiquity, ficient condition as if the

by Strausseans
of antiquity Blumenberg's as more Ages that

just by contrast with


is the necessary forceful than a mere

rejection of this "will."

of the Middle the importance so on the intellectual problematic a return and blocked modernity to that interpretation. for all to attribute

generated to antiquity, is an

middle, the motivation

important

contrast

However, this section

its value, Blumenberg's enormous power and more resulting than

and

approach influence within

continues to the the as com intel if he

in

contradictions, plications, lectual perhaps tradition, and voluntarism contribute

solutions it can bear.

It's not

is

simply trying to argue that the contradictions

of divine absolutism

to motivation something It is the only source of motivation in a different view nature way. a question comes to credit.7 Why to be a question to want he appears or most a good needs have that needs may answering, answering, deal seems social, a role. to do with strikingly political One does the questions odd to suggest not that that were asked "before" of other factors it; but historical, do not play a sociologist archaeolo it a variety

to the modern

or even

personal, psychological to be a crude have reductionist, that the

a Nietzschean of knowledge, genealogist, or to be at least sceptical whatever, gist, tions" and "answers" can account for

a Foucaultean

so much

of "ques interplay of the motivation

that went
aspects the

into the founding of modernity.


court culture, will Bildung

Surely the problematic


(to refer have to Hegel's role account

of medieval

of the origin of modern Geist), both social and political,


influence of personal and genius, some

as well as
to play. It

7 cf. his explanation of Ockham's nominalism Among many examples, or his argument that of Heidegger, criticism (p. 188-89), his subsequent can be explained to the in history much of what by attention happens and not to any hidden human beings ask and try to answer, "questions" agenda (pp. 191-92).

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BLUMENBERG ON MODERNITY
has to know how to put such pieces been difficult always can even to be "put together"), whether and ought they (or account to me it seems that Hegel's least on this issue, Geist" a full in his Phenomenology be is more on the

547
together but, at of "sich track

entfremdte towards But Given means

right

explanation. this line would pursuing is often

the way

to an unwieldly metaphysical in time, "necessary" itself "cosmic revealing spirit" towards wisdom, and the destruction torical march

Hegel to be committed

a major digression to pursue his interpreted,

indeed.

approach with apparatus

in a his stages of difference and

individuality within

a "closed"

identity

theory.

This
become

theological

and metaphysical reading voice and so Hegel's again Blumenberg's than

of Hegel has recently is even less often heard However, showing

popular in contexts like his relevance

it might.

baggage) is quite another story. (without the metaphysical The Liberation of Theoretical Curiosity. This section, called the is the longest in the book and "Trial" of curiosity by Blumenberg,
ranges Feuerbach how, within over to Voltaire, and Epicurus from Socrates Kant, figures In this next and Freud. the issue is stage of the story, context detailed the prepared theoretical above, modern understand, thing in a way to be and legitimate itself. indeed Why intently,

came to define, curiosity a worthwhile did it become almost tions

not curious assump obsessively of knowledge? If the paradoxes of divine about the "value" so uncertain and voluntarism rendered the world absolutism and so "absconditus" as to create a pressure and explanation then how did the modern for

"curious," tied to traditional

God

that "faith" alone could not handle, security come to relieve of curiosity notion that pressure? And again, Blumenberg's narrative has a Proto-Hegelian, dialectical, ring for destruction the potential is to say to it: "In

that

the perfection of Scholasticism, is already latent" In this case (p. 336).

the perfection/destruction
tempts argue more faction this to argue against for an unrestricted more

dialectic
"economy" curiosity comprehensive

involves how the history of at


of theoretical in favor goal curiosity, i.e., to of a higher good or a than curiosity's satis The for argument accounts. First, our knowledge,

important, could achieve,

progression he denies the claim sense

contradicted itself. finally a dual denial involves of alternate that the motivation originates have historically for scientific in "natural" made

of its significance, Science may necessity.

a survival necessity, itself indispensable

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548
but that survival, and is no explanation for of modern curiosity. of fact is no argument specific such for and

ROBERT B. PIPPIN
its natural necessity does

of the Moreover, from

origin a naturalistic

self-understanding pragmatism it would make

no justice to the original promise of those who pleaded for the lib
eration better, denies Blumenberg Secondly, just "possible." an for all knowl "desire" of any postulation eternal, comprehensive natural that mathematics, science, incorporates philosophy, edge desire was It was not the case that such a natural art, etc. religion, curiosity not happier, external restraints: men

arbitrarily suppressed against these chains


"renaissance"

by the Middle Ages, constantly struggling until finally freed in the of superstition

to know and human beings wanted (cf. p. 233). What more to know than it were much always specific they wanted why no of the to the and motivation is done and significance that; justice off as superstition, if almost all of it is written medieval enterprise ignorance, and faulty argument. account is a fine example he of what an to that an epoch was the questions struggling an are behind swer. it is not clear Sometimes questions just what a case it and in this takes great Blumenberg enterprise, "epochal" alternative of space and detail to sketch would the context have had within which He the pro of modern to stand.

Blumenberg's for calls looking

deal

begins curiosity too I deuteros much of Socrates' far think, pious, much, by making of from the natural "second famous his away philosophy sailing" For Blumenberg, this "the human towards things." Anaxagorous, the value of the traditional argument against independent begins ponents theoretical for practical cism, dition, goals. curiosity curiosity ends. and He the simultaneous sees this argument assertion of a higher through Christian to all value Stoi tra other extending of the and much of salvation more

scepticism, given

its emphasis

Augustinianism on might even modern

the

Blumenberg

priority have made Augustinian,

of the case Heidegger.

against There is

by the greatest

much in this story that is valuable, and much in the tensions it makes for itself that contribute persuasively to what Blumenberg
wants than ways of to claim anywhere that raise For example, about else modern in the curiosity, book, much of questions. so abstractly in favor perspective but that there is also, here more in is forced together

a number to speak

about

Socrates'

"rejection"

"natural"

quickly

philosophy a crude Ciceronean

of human

too adopts pragmata It could, I think, (cf. p. 248).

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BLUMENBERG ON MODERNITY
be more easily

549

but challenged ing that their

into nature did not reject that Socrates argued inquiry notion of aitia, claim of the naturalist the sufficiency were not accounts and re simply wrong, incomplete,

a completion in speculative it could Moreover, philosophy. quired so turn not that did much Socrates also be more away argued easily as to argue in favor of self-knowledge that from naturalistic inquiry that what is recovered in anamnesis is the issues are inseparable, not "the" self, or even the when soul, but the "natural." Socratic to note and so the really Ideas, notes this other side of the

Ironically, enterprise, it) he chooses

Blumenberg it is so prominent he could not fail (and indeed, to rest content his categories with and blame

the Platonic Socrates for violating them. "Still the foundation of the visible world in the world of Ideas, which remains [in the Platonic
Socrates] exclusion that his the cannot be easily of cosmological reconciled theory" have with (p. 254). the Socratic have pause the position's thought about of I would

this unreconcilability might of Socrates inclusion hasty

given Blumenberg in this narrative of

history

of theory. "economy" line in Blumenberg's This narrative with through the Socratic insistence priority on of the Epicurean

story

is clear

ginning edge, over

the priority indifference

Be enough. of self-knowl to nature, on such the

sceptical

and generally Hellenistic

priority of philosophic
insistence

therapy

to the early and late medieval theory, as God's to the secret of his own "right" restriction of the value of knowledge and the salvation, the material world

general suspicion risks the loss of one's on curiosity created

creation, to those relevant for things that the temptation to know soul, a highly the ancient problematic and in the and me self

things the Tertullian

dieval

restrictions

understanding.

This problem

is visible first in the heresy problem


speculation secondly, purposes investigation growing the date de for the tries

amount of theoretical (i.e., a certain to answer is necessary the heretics); on science, even for religious pendence Easter); physical to avoid and

is especially clear when Augustine to an unbeliever of eternal punishment possibility an ad hoc invocation of omnipotence.

(fixing tries to explain and

of Augustine's is itself very signif The inconsistency argumentation icant: on the one hand he can provide himself with a basis on which to deal with unbelievers and with their concept of the cosmos only by a point of holding to the regularity of the world and regarding making as appearances to us; due to regularities unknown supposed miracles on the other hand, he fears a lawfulness to which appeal can be made,

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550

ROBERT B. PIPPIN
drive to the human which would give legitimacy inquisitive on rationality, leave behind it, on account of its insistence stricted acknowledged (p. 320) part of God's free will. and would only a re

This

is only

one must

of many be known

examples in order

of

the

ironic how

problem: insignificant

What, and

theoretically,

to know

potentially
Moreover, ical

dangerous
the very

is the need for theoretical


the

enlightenment?
of theoret an adequate itself.

knowledge much

to denigrate attempt to challenge the and in arguing

importance of possibility theoretical

knowledge
expend

of the fallen world makes


energy against

it that much more difficult to


activity

(Why bother

if reason is so impotent?)

reason had over against to its maximal pretension theology Raising the role in explaining result of reducing the unintended theology's of reason the competence and thus of preparing world to a minimum, as the organ of a new kind of science that would liberate itself from the tradition, (p. 347) But none of this pressure for the liberation The uninhibited but of curiosity meant lack of co growing

was that curiosity simply in the arguments herence possible criterion to Descartes to repeat the the "self-assertion"

self-justifying. an against of curiosity, of utility. utility was

made curiosity the modern epoch still

required its positive


in the

legitimation

of that assertion,
In contexts capable

and it found that

concept to Voltaire, scholastic

from Bacon ranging of safely invoked being

and speculation, reduced pretension tion

idle, metaphysical vain, against charges like a greatly seemed of what to offer a defense restric of the story to know. Here modernity's real power over with

for the sake of infinite of speculation pretension as Blumenberg one. nature is a familiar However,

proceeds To

his explanation
is much extent, edge he less seems

of how this legitimation


than in the secularization to regard any demand as itself a re-occupation

unfolded his own attitude


discussion. some that a pretension to knowl a of scholastic problematic,

clear

be justified

as ifmodernity could not forget its Socratic and Christian heritage (although it should have) and had to try to defend itself in their
terms which were inappropriate to the rest of modernity. That is,

Blumenberg seems to think that the epoch illegitimately committed itself to beliefs in the possible finality of the scientific enterprises,
towards progress are dangerously that goal, anachronistic. and its utility, When etc., exposed and as that these beliefs or exaggerated

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BLUMENBERG ON MODERNITY
double-edged,

551

science and this itself? they can seem to de-legitimate as in is demand anachronistic that the justification given unfairly, answer as will the how wondering modernity modernity question own As noted, the point of human about Blumenberg's history. position finished. He ation hard argued forming is not as clear here as in the former case, but he is also not

points

out how created kind

the

claims

of curiosity to see what for in this

their of limits as

own

for an enlightened, useful liber one was For it problems. thing, on unrestrained could be curiosity about per suggestions For the another, beings. were to be scientific activity and the exact could relation not but

context, on experiments which the

in Maupertuis's human of

live

within spheres useful became between become

results harder politics

progressingly morals,

to define,

problem. In short, set for Kant. the stage was discussion Blumenberg's was is brief, but quite it Kant who of Kant For, important. "brought to a close the 'trial' of theoretical that, as a systematic curiosity or revised was not to be superseded again" explication, (p. 433).

medicine, a serious

and metaphysics,

Presumably,
of the easy what status to agree

this means
of reason's in a broad That

that Kant's
"need"

(finally dualistic) understanding


is still ours, and while it is

to know

is involved.

such a claim, it is not clear exactly way with one of the in the Kantian is, great ambiguities and theoretical-scientific a satisfaction

project
the losophy with

is that the same book that looks to be a radical critique of


of both that promises speculative this limitation can phi (Befriedi is also

pretensions

gung) of our knowledge-desire


the promise that we

(Wissbegierde).
achieve

The book concludes

before the end of the present centuries have not century what many been able to accomplish, to secure for human reason complete namely, satisfaction in regard to that which its appetite for knowledge has itself at times, though hitherto in vain. occupied (A856/B884) Kant satisfied thus argues that both that a fundamental of that human satisfaction restricts the can be reason

and

the very that

pursuit

curiosity involves

in a self-critique pretensions; Augustinean gerous

or, Kant terms or

and completely has successfully inwardness

finally

for the whole

curiosity,

rejected either problem: and self-knowledge.

metaphysical old Socratic and dan Blumen

outward For

berg, part of the early modern

difficulty

in legitimating

theoretical

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552
curiosity somewhat It was was its acceptance defenses apologetic who broke of those of common of this

ROBERT B. PIPPIN
alternatives?hence sense, utility, the early, practicality. and showed

Kant

the hold

assumption,

at all but instead that the motive that these are not the alternatives for the totality of curiosity itself, consistently pursued, by reaching its nec of objectively, of the conditions self-knowledge finally makes essary This entific tition its subject, made (p. 434) possible the unrestricted of sci pursuit was not in compe pursuit as a kind of self-knowledge be perceived as a meta actual

argument

that that knowledge by showing with but self-knowledge, required and could not condition legitimating threat to our moral Blumenberg again, To issues together.

physical Here arate

autonomy. seems to me associate

to run

a number

of sep

Augustinean

self-knowledge

with
quite

the formal self-knowledge


anachronistic, and misses

of the Transcendental
a crucial point in Kant's

Analytic
transfor

is

mation
tasks

there is little room left at all for the pos of the issue?that self-knowledge. Certainly the sibility of traditional humanistic
of empirical bear in as the "Anthropologie," psychology, to what resemblance little Socratic, or even moral was considered self so

examination important Moreover, metaphysical autonomous

Blumenberg pretensions and unrestricted

and Romantic traditions. Christian, Kant's of the himself notes, critique renders of science ironically completely our investigation na of phenomenal try to tie Kant's subject of Feuerbach and Freud sources of inquiry, only

later chapters ture. Although Blumenberg's the later investigations with of knowledge and psychological into the historical subjective later Kant far too quickly with he is associating

developments

loosely tied to his. Itmight be more accurately said that the Kantian its goal by neu legitimation of scientific curiosity accomplished tralizing the origin and practice of such inquiry, not by tying that self-knowledge (hence the great practice to a kind of self-limiting
as I have argued on the formality of the critical enterprise, of Feuerbachean and the later discussions Thus elsewhere).8 in the Kantian incoherent Freudian is, strictly speaking, subjects emphasis context, and would require a great deal more detail from the Fi

8 R. Pippin, Kant's 1982).

Theory

of Form

(New Haven:

Yale University

Press,

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BLUMENBERG ON MODERNITY
chtean wants avoided and Hegelian be drawn. of Kant before critique In sum, Blumenberg theoretical the

553
line Blumenberg that Kant has

could

is right

salvation, edge, this framework the two themes. Indeed, he avoided by even necting more the realms, the subjective decisively by "detaching" separating for knowledge from the human, and that "conditions" acting subject, more to his the world. is far contemporary legacy separation The Epochality of Modernity. The core of Blumenberg's case is

an opposition between or between and science

and self-knowl curiosity but he did not do so by con

given manent
own and imate

in Parts

II and III, in the story he tells about how the "im rigorism" (p. 465) of the Christian tradition provoked its
over scientific context. the of omnipotence and worldliness came to understand and legit curiosity a recapitulation IV is mainly Part and issue

self-destruction how modern itself in that He

reassertion. how Nicholas old," began created and failed. examines By

thesis his historical by examining recapitulates on the medieval side of the modern of Cusa, "thresh to see clearly the problems which that had tradition tried to solve them without account, Bruno he that threshold. He crossing he failed Then necessarily. those problems, but only

Blumenberg's how Giordorno

resolved

by rejecting
he reasserts

that tradition and being wholly modern.


this methodological claim by criticizing

Throughout,
again "histor

ical substantialism" the true epochality


epochality does mensurability. that (a) there change lasts (though avoids (I think

(p. 466) and any other view that would deny of modernity, and by again insisting that this
radical this novelty, discontinuity he discusses Kuhn point, conditions" questions" in the that even or and incom claims

not mean To make are he means or not

"reference-frames "common

span epochal an if different

swers); (b) that these questions


transformations they are perennial of any kind

have a kind of durability


content are of and eventually new

that out
thought as il

revolutions

perceived arise.

legitimate,

as not needing

to be answered);
for why

and (c) that Kuhn


paradigms

just
Note

explanations

how odd it is to hear Blumenberg,


that something analogous to Kant's

of all people, argue against Kuhn


"first analogy" is a necessary

condition for the possibility


asserts the permanence

of historical

explanation.

That principle
the heart

of substance

(cf. p. 466).

Of course,

of Blumenberg's
the Cusan's dieval world view

disagreement
to hold had

with Kuhn is the former's claim that


elements was not of the me an example

attempt

various together to fail, that his failure

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554
of the problems any "research one that rendered that project project" continually incoherent.

ROBERT B. PIPPIN
encounters, but

The details of the story Blumenberg tells about this failure are intriguing, though I doubt that they will convince any Kuhnean that
were so devastating as to make theology the continuance of that tradition What is of more in impossible. is the way this last section and finally makes terest, though, nicely the dimensions of explicit methodological Blumenberg's challenging inconsistencies in academic picture and his of the modern point of view. As suggested earlier, the most

important elements of his project, his account of legitimation


isolation on view of scientific in this last clearly rationality and section,

itself,

as "die Neuzeit," are both a final comment. prompt

II

As indicated throughout, Blumenberg's intention is to isolate a specific historical dialogue: the way in which the demand for a
the need and right to inquire into "self-assertion," freely was resisted and His is arose, nature, prevailed. finally argument that this epochal event is not a revolutionary break with the as of premodern culture. That sumptions and is the criterion demand by virtue culture of which is what the the produced demand is "le certain

is a "better" resolution of various late scholastic gitimate," problems; a a new set of answers?so it does propose new that, yet it is break, in some the a respects, enterprise illegitimately "re-occupies" framework of assumptions that these very solutions will eventually invalidate. As demonstrated, this involves a somewhat tortuous

dialectic
challenging

(or occasionally,
aspect

a hedging of bets), but the philosophically


case is his insistence on the

of Blumenberg's in his

specificity of the issue of legitimation,


Somewhat Blumenberg tion" of the assessment made has ironically, produced attempt a book that since he

and so of progress.
to carry out this program, a "legitima is just as much is always that any claiming can and only be in terms

world, jwemodern of the progressive comparison

in specific such

of modernity qualities with preceding options,

of the criteria of that preceding


shown a legitimation for theoretical etc. But, curiosity, of course,

tradition.
the modern

Thus he claims to have


version progress with of independent in research, a specific

utility, self-knowledge, a legitimation that remains

quite

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BLUMENBERG ON MODERNITY
accusative. and those research this It is and historically can

555

legitimation program

to the pre-modern world, only be directed a context de facto of implies acceptance at those criteria. where the Moreover, points bound and astronomy with the assumptions to does begin physics of the prior epoch, because the new of the questions

of modern

where

discontinuous look wholly some old questions cannot be answers to other old questions entail

"answered" the rejection

(the "point" of history,


gears, changes to admit that legitimated demonstrable legitimates if that But the

the justification

of curiosity), Blumenberg

in effect, his re-occupation invokes and seems thesis, new cannot those discontinuous, elements be wholly to believe He appears in the same way. that the progress on so many in issues is this kind of case, what, specific

the rejection of such re-occupied "question-frameworks." is so then many of the most about interesting questions of modernity is to count to offer seem to be avoided.

legitimation of what and

This is just to suggest that Blumenberg


issue as a central, the suspicion and those and why,

leaves rather hazy the

or defining feature of modernity that he picks those phenomena

that fit his own theory of the internal self-destruction


tian, scholastic tradition that To tradition don't elements by do not the of the are marginalized I finally another way,

of the Chris
early modern

of Gnosticism." Of course, overcoming if it is, a has done deal towards that it is then Blumenberg great showing that problem. that it does overcome "legitimate," as for "legitimation" the claim is as puzzling Further, finally If the book had been called the claim about modernity. "The His torical to quarrel with what Blumenberg does here. prise," of Modern is matter. But "The Legitimacy With Age" quite another case is vulnerable to two that announced intention, Blumenberg's Appropriateness it would be hard of Some Elements of the Modern Enter

put all this itself is "the second

re-occupation theory. see why "modernity"

very different kinds of attack.


strange bedfellow, in the is involved Nietzsche) for claim

Someone

like Strauss

(or, to pick a

to know how much clearly want we are no After all, while legitimacy. would

where yet close to realizing, to thinking through to the end, what it means for the "scientific image" to be the dominant force in "official
culture," that whether we do know that there are several possible to be assessed that have (because centrality are vast to pursue them or not). These areas. other and many education, law, medicine, of implications we must decide issues in politics, In that context,

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556
when the full implications of with late of the modern project

ROBERT B. PIPPIN
are considered, it

does not seem helpful


of one its resolution is talking and

to hear that modernity


scholastic contradictions encouraging

is legitimate

because

someone

a return

of course, (unless to a premodern,

theological
about issues, covered price

culture).

Blumenberg may demur that he's only talking


a narrow range of scientific restrict and philosophical the domain properly

legitimating but this would by these

unreasonably and would "issues," In more Straussian

of triviality.

them only at the "legitimate" of mod terms, a legitimation

ernity,

if successful, must
project, for some must

legitimate
demonstrate

the kind of life promised


that it is a good or worse

by

the modern

life, not just life is an

better than that implied by Nicolas


a demand anachronistic or that narrow oldest if the conversation

of Cusa.

Simply to assert that


of premodern issues, be raised in a except like one of the

about

a better

"re-occupation" by modernity it cannot issue can be discussed, dialogue, begins

historical specific in the new stories

to sound

someone Secondly, the theological accept

enterprise?positivism.9 want would like Hegel as a necessary tradition The

to know

how we

can

component of the not

in our

legitimation
motivation between of

of modernity
that tradition. and any

if we do not know the full story of the


story particular crisis does premodern tradition wants answers relation legitimate is itself, somehow, legit to tell that story by isolating be that defined the relation But of some at some question point in

anything imate. Blumenberg Predictably, of questions and the dialogue tween the ancient fruitless and it becomes early to look

modernity that unless

premodern

Christian for

traditions.

the motivation

in Blumenberg's notion of "sufficient points to another danger can only be a of modernity his claim that any assessment rationality," This it and the "ancient" and "modern" between options. comparison one can into either textbook lead using facile, categories easily approach or it can restrict one to the epoch in dealing with these epochal options, as historically to the way its "questions" have been made a appropriated, one might some In that be able of case, historically specific agenda. part that the historical to show, for example, the ones in terms of "Greeks," tradition intellectual whom the medieval began to define itself, are not the If that is so, Blumenberg's ancient the Greeks who might represent option. And one does not have to be a mem legitimation procedure will not work. that the ber in good standing of any ideology-critique camp to suspect or a Plato historical may represent Descartes, Hegel) only portion of, (or or distortion the ancient of, the Plato, say, who represents epoch.

9 This

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BLUMENBERG ON MODERNITY
question. can be how much that that another Blumenberg learned exhausts has done an ingenious I see no

557
job in showing reason to think about or Christian the

approach and historical significance ity, or the Enlightenment. his claim that the or the self-images inadequate much more bases

by doing various authority Hegel's

so, but

culture, to this issue, contribution great historical of individual agents, self-understanding can be shown to be historical of various cultures, various if we assume actions and events and that pro a common historical

important of Greek

questions

for explaining

can be explained have

ject in which
acknowledgment

individuals and societies


may been much

participate without
abused

explicit to

in later manifestations

(or by Hegel
speculation or Nietzsche's,

himself)
about

and may always be a dangerous


hands." But in Hegel's

invitation
or Marx's,

hands, or Heidegger's, or Gadamer's, or Freud's, the in us an recover to allow and of such does power assumption terpretive our own as a tremendous amount of render past culture intelligible our own "motivation." our own, as something that can illuminate At least about strategy than ourselves that can potentially tell us more of interpretation a set of questions. to answer that we failed these book does not engage large issues Blumenberg's given the claims about how he does make explicit one worry to make is enough there that, some and its intimidating scholarship,

"hidden

Of course, often. But

again,

to "legitimate" modernity, its many splendors despite and abuses

of those convinced by the book, particularly


of more

those frustrated by the

will take speculative approaches, ambiguities of modernity? of another familiar from it a justification phenomena and all other ages?willful myopia.

University

of California,

San Diego.

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