Charlotte Baumann on Martin Shuster’s “Autonomy After Auschwitz”


MARTIN SHUSTER | Autonomy after Auschwitz: Adorno, German Idealism, and Modernity | Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014


By Charlotte Baumann

In his book Autonomy After Auschwitz, Martin Shuster interprets Adorno’s conception of freedom via Kant and Hegel. Fittingly, his discussion therefore revolves around the concept of reason—or perhaps that should be reasons plural, as we read about a “space of reasons” (p. 29), different “chain[s] of rational reflection” (p. 82), “distinct form[s] of giving reasons” (p. 157), and “the possibility of taking one’s reasons as reasons” (p. 168).

My discussion of the book will focus on this tiny, seemingly innocuous difference signalled by the plural s after the word ‘reason’ and related terms. The difference recurs throughout the interpretation of German Idealists and thinkers like Adorno who were inspired by their work. Robert Pippin claims, for example, that Hegel’s Logic brings out the general conditions that must be met by different “categorical frameworks” (Pippin 1990:847) or “absolute forms” (Pippin 1990:843) (while, to my knowledge, both Kant’s table of categories and Hegel’s absolute form are singular, that is, one rather than many).
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Henry Pickford on Martin Shuster’s “Autonomy After Auschwitz”


MARTIN SHUSTER | Autonomy after Auschwitz: Adorno, German Idealism, and Modernity | Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014


By Henry Pickford

Martin Shuster’s Autonomy after Auschwitz is an ambitious and impressive work, from which I have learned a great deal. It is ambitious because it aims to situate Adorno’s thought within both specific contexts of the German Idealist tradition (Kant’s theoretical and practical philosophy, Hegel’s philosophy of history) and within a certain region of contemporary Anglophone philosophy oriented around Wittgenstein and neo-Aristotelianism.[1] Shuster’s work is impressive not least because of the extent to which those ambitions are realised. The book undertakes not only a novel and expansive reading of Adorno’s practical and moral philosophy in relation to Kant, on the one hand, and Cavell, on the other, but also a careful exposition of Kant’s changing conception of the highest good within his rational theology, and a re-interpretation of Hegel’s philosophy of history to complement Adorno’s moral theory. My focus here will be on a central line of argument that connects Chapter 1 to Chapter 3 and centers on autonomy, agency and action. Shuster reads Horkheimer and Adorno as claiming that Kantian autonomy itself undermines agency, and then reconstructs Adorno’s moral theory as a response to that deficiency. Shuster and I first discussed these issues on a panel at the meeting of the Association for Adorno Studies in New York City in October 2015, and again on a panel at the Pacific conference of the American Philosophical Association in April 2016; I want to thank him for his clarifications at those events, and for continuing the conversation now. Read more

Robert Hanna on Martin Shuster’s “Autonomy after Auschwitz”


MARTIN SHUSTER | Autonomy after Auschwitz: Adorno, German Idealism, and Modernity | University of Chicago Press 2014


By Robert Hanna

In Autonomy After Auschwitz, Martin Shuster argues for five basic claims:

(i)  that in the hands of Adorno himself, Horkheimer and Adorno’s ‘dialectic of enlightenment’ becomes the dialectic of autonomy,

(ii) that the classical Kantian concept of autonomy, as spelled out in the Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals and the Critique of Practical Reason, under the historical and sociopolitical pressures of twentieth-century totalitarianism and post-World War II advanced capitalism, was tragically deformed into a deeply alienating and morally oppressive notion,

(iii) that Kant himself has a prescient reply to the real possibility of this kind of tragic deformation of human rationality, under the rubric of ‘radical evil’, in Religion Within the Boundaries of Mere Reason, by way of his thesis that we all have a fundamental, innate religious commitment to the highest good, aka God, the rational Idea of a proportioning of moral virtue to happiness, spread out over all the members of a universal ethical community, each of them a person of good will, acting individually, but also in a mutually coordinated and socially-shaped way, for the sake of the Categorical Imperative—“a people of God under ethical laws” (RGV, AA 6:98), jointly constituting “a kingdom of God on earth” (RGV, AA 6:93), “which cannot be realized (by human organization) except in the form of a Church” (RGV, AA 6:100),

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Jessica Leech on Nicholas Stang’s “Kant’s Modal Metaphysics”


NICHOLAS STANG | Kant’s Modal Metaphysics | Oxford University Press 2016


By Jessica Leech

Kant’s Modal Metaphysics charts a fascinating course from Kant’s pre-Critical ideas about modality through to his more mature, Critical, view. We are not just offered an account of what Kant said about some narrow topic—modality—but rather a narrative according to which questions arising from Kant’s modal metaphysics play a crucial role in motivating and shaping the Critical philosophy. For example, in Chapter 6, it is proposed that questions of modal epistemology contribute to the Critical turn.

Given the importance of the pre-Critical ideas to this narrative, Stang devotes the first half of the book to them. In particular, much of Part I is taken up with reconstruction and discussion of the ideas and arguments that appear in Kant’s essay The Only Possible Argument in Support of a Demonstration of the Existence of God (henceforth Beweisgrund). This discussion plays an important role in the push on towards the Critical turn. The conclusion of the Beweisgrund argument, as Stang reads it, leaves significant questions unanswered, and raises important issues. According to Stang, it is these questions and issues that, in part, drive Kant’s thought onwards.

In this note, my aim is to examine Stang’s reconstruction of the modal argument of the Beweisgrund. The aim of the argument is to show that a simple, unique, absolutely necessary being exists (i.e. God). My discussion will be quite focused—on the reconstruction of one argument discussed in Part I of the book. However, given the important role played by this argument, its conclusion, and indeed the step of the argument on which I shall focus in Stang’s narrative of the development of Kant’s thought, my aim is not as narrow as it might seem.

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