Modernity Clarified

In chapter 13, Brandom expands significantly on what he means by modernity, and what he wants to contrast it with. Modernity in effect includes any determinate negation of what is now referred to perspicuously as a traditional attitude.

As we might expect, the traditional attitude takes norms as just simply given. That is just a type, and as such perfectly clear and sensible, raising no historiographical issues. Hegel’s examples from Sophocles’ Antigone and Oedipus Rex provide excellent illustrations of what is at stake. Before, I got the sense Brandom was predicating this attitude of a very broad chronological category that might include everything before Descartes, and this seemed wrong. I believe Hegel himself in this context speaks of the “ancient world” as an undifferentiated whole, which is similarly confusing.

Brandom already mentioned in passing that the first seeds of the modernity he has in mind were present in classical Greece. This now makes perfect sense. I would venture to suggest that within classical Greece, Sophocles gave poetic expression to the traditional attitude; the Sophists represented an early instance of modern subjectivism and alienation; and Plato and Aristotle were already postmodern in Brandom’s sense of recovering genuine normativity without the anchor of tradition. (See also Alienation, Modernity.)

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