Broadly defined, my research comprises the subject of “decadence” as cultural, political, and environmental phenomenon. It challenges the conventional view that decay stands for the deviation from established norms, accepted philosophical principles, or teleological natural states. I hold nineteenth-century German philosophy to be well suited to develop a broad and compelling account of decadence. Its commitments to the normative basis of thinking, its detailed engagement with the character of institutional authority, and its extensive commentary on normative and economic basis of the natural world, all supply it with suitable conceptual innovations in order to spell out decadence as philosophical subject.
1. Dissertation Research
My dissertation, “Metaphysics Without Ontology,” presents nineteenth-century German philosophy as suited to develop a broad account of decadence. My intentions are to argue that understanding decadence requires heeding the most far-reaching developments in German philosophy’s critique of metaphysics. I advance the view that G. W. F. Hegel, F. W. J. Schelling, and Karl Marx challenged the prevailing philosophical picture of the world as a collection of “discrete things” whose properties metaphysics spells out under the name “ontology.” German philosophy replaced Platonic “forms,” Cartesian “clear and distinct” ideas, and modern science’s “natural laws” with questions of norms and their tumultuous history, reason’s unbounded creativity, and nature’s constant decay and reorganization. Their revisions commit to the position that the world has no one single outlook that philosophy could analytically lay out. I sum up this feature under the philosophical label “metaphysics’ accountability gap.” I then argue that when philosophy ignores metaphysics’ accountability gap it treats decadence one-sidedly. It depicts decay as deviation from the accepted “world ontology” rather than considering the ways philosophical authority erodes. In order to examine why institutions’ social hold fades, or what it means for organisms and environments to decay, philosophy needs a theory of decadence built upon the higher-order commitment to metaphysics’ accountability gap, which my thesis offers.
2. Current Research
The research project I would conduct at UNC is to establish the value and originality of German philosophy’s theory of decadence. My manuscript, titled Decadent Thoughts in German Philosophy: From Natural Decay to Social Decline, considers nineteenth-century philosophy from a fresh angle. It articulates its underappreciated studies on decadence, the troublesome phenomenon in which dwindling social authority leads neither to institutional collapse nor cultural reinvention but to stagnation. Decadence is for German philosophy a dual crisis of authority and the imagination needed to move forward. The manuscript centers on G. W. F. Hegel, J W. F. Schelling, Karl Marx, and Friedrich Nietzsche and builds a philosophy of decadence drawing on themes such as institutional decline, natural bodily disease and environmental “deterioration,” and breakdown of “scientific” or theoretical authority. My manuscript emphatically spells out German philosophy’s unique resources for coming to terms with political breakdown, radical scientific skepticism, and natural deterioration, all of which are in conversation with recent interest in its ecological thought, philosophies of mourning and trauma, and theories of normative authority and social trust. More broadly, my manuscript opens avenues of possible collaboration with other traditions interested in decadence writ large, such as decolonial philosophy in the Americas.