Ben Randolph is defending his dissertation in April 2023. His dissertation is on the concept of hope in Frankfurt School critical theory and in its philosophical forebears. He has published, presented, and taught on topics in the history of philosophy, continental philosophy, social and political philosophy, and modernist literature. In addition, since 2021, he has advised undergraduates seeking to conduct research or to apply to fellowships and scholarships at Penn State’s Undergraduate Research and Fellowships Mentoring Office (URFM).
Dissertation: A Secular Hope? An Interpretation and Defense of Adorno’s Critical Theory
Project Description: Theodor W. Adorno’s critical theory has been accused both of debilitating pessimism and impractical utopianism. This dissertation reconstructs Adorno’s conception of hope and shows that it is neither pessimistic nor unrealistic, but in fact fits the requirements of modern, secular societies. Adorno’s secular hope, like the Judeo-Christian doctrines of hope it inherits and transforms, turns on a rational and an extra-rational component. Its rationality derives from demonstrating that (a) political progress, (b) an ethical life, and (c) a transfigured cognitive experience are not impossible. Hope’s extra-rational sources are “promissory experiences” that give us fallible indications that (a), (b), and (c) are, more strongly, possible, because they are sedimented in existing practices in disruptive and fragmentary forms. This account is elucidated in conversation with alternative attempts at secularizing hope, particularly Kant’s, Marx’s, Honneth’s, and Habermas’s.