New Work on Kant (IV): Kant on Persons and Agency


ERIC WATKINS (ed.) | Kant on Persons and Agency | Cambridge University Press 2018


By Christian Onof 

This volume of papers features an excellent line-up of many among the most influential contemporary Kant scholars so that the reader is entitled to expect much food for thought. And this expectation is fully met with a selection of thought-provoking papers around the topics of the person and agency, therefore dealing both with Kant’s theoretical and practical philosophy. The types of paper range from careful analyses of Kantian texts (from the Critical period) to developments of ideas that have a Kantian origin, but sometimes move well beyond that. This mixture is welcome: Kant’s philosophy is kept alive through new interpretations of the letter of his philosophy and through drawing upon insights taken from his writings and developing them in directions that may be said to be in the spirit of Kant’s writings but clearly go beyond its letter. Of course, this raises the question of how far beyond the letter one can go while remaining within the spirit of the Critical Kant, as we shall see.

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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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Reply to Adrian Piper & Jeppe von Platz


KATERINA DELIGIORGI | The Scope of Autonomy: Kant and the Morality of Freedom | Oxford University Press 2012


By Katerina Deligiorgi

I am immensely grateful to both my critics for the care and seriousness with which they have treated the arguments in my book The Scope of Autonomy. Their criticisms helped me think both about the detail of the argument and about the structure and implications of the position I defend.

I start with Jeppe von Platz’s comments because they present me with the opportunity to explain the motivation for the overall project. Setting out briefly the aims of the book will help explain my strategy and go some way towards answering von Platz’s broader concerns. I then seek to deal with the specific questions he poses.

The second part of my response is devoted to Adrian Piper’s comments. Besides offering a critical appraisal of a key thesis in the book, namely that distributive universality can adequately capture the demand for moral objectivity, Piper extends the argument of the book and offers an original contribution on the nature and scope of autonomy. Her discussion presents me with the opportunity to clarify certain features of my own position. Read more