Broadly defined, my research interest comprises the subject of “decadence” as philosophical, cultural, and environmental phenomenon. My concern lies with challenging the conventional view for which decay is encapsulated by deviating from established norms, sound philosophical principles, or teleological natural states. I hold nineteenth-century German philosophy to be particularly well suited to develop a broad and compelling account of decadence due to its commitments to the normative basis of thinking, its engagement with the character of institutional authority, and its extensive commentary on normative and economic basis of the natural world.
1. Dissertation Research
My dissertation argues for an interpretation of German philosophy’s metaphysics as “metaphysics without ontology” and bills this as a solid philosophical foundation for a theory of decadence. My intention is to survey major conceptual developments from Hegel, Schelling and Marx and draw from their critique of metaphysics the building blocks of a fresh approach to decadence. I advance the thesis that German philosophy challenges 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 all commit to the position that the world has no one single outlook philosophy could analytically lay out. I sum up this feature under the philosophical label “metaphysics’ accountability gap.” It acts as shorthand for the view that any conception of the world assumes something or other in such a way that no complete picture of “all” is possible. I then argue that when philosophy ignores metaphysics’ accountability gap it treats decadence one-sidedly. It depicts it as a matter of deviation from the supposedly single world-ontology rather than as the more intellectually-ambitious question of “authority erosion.” In not assuming it possible to picture the world completely philosophy can ask such more ambitious question about the nature of authority, social normative commitments, or natural order. Therefore, in order to examine why institutions decline, 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
My current research project is to establish German philosophy’s theory of decadence as unappreciated yet provocative and valuable. My manuscript, titled Decadent Thoughts: German Philosophy from Crisis to Decay, considers nineteenth-century philosophy from a fresh angle. It presents an underappreciated side deeply concerned with decadence as the troublesome phenomenon in which the loss of 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 Hegel, Schelling, and Marx and builds a philosophy of decadence drawing on themes such as institutional decline, natural bodily disease and environmental “deterioration,” and loss of “scientific” or theoretical authority.