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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Reply to Robert Louden and Alison Ross


RICHARD ELDRIDGE | Images of History: Kant, Benjamin, Freedom, and the Human Subject | Oxford University Press 2016


By Richard Eldridge

I am grateful to Critique and its editors for finding such accomplished philosophers and scholars as Robert Louden and Alison Ross to comment on Images of History, and I am grateful to both Louden and Ross for their detailed, accurate, and insightful remarks. Each of them characterises my aims and arguments well, and each of them aptly queries some central claims. I am pleased to have this opportunity to respond to their queries and to elaborate some of my lines of thought.

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Robert Louden on Richard Eldridge’s “Images of History”


RICHARD ELDRIDGE | Images of History: Kant, Benjamin, Freedom, and the Human Subject | Oxford University Press 2016


By Robert Louden

A book focusing on “Kant, Benjamin, and the images of history they develop” (p. xi) is likely to raise a few eyebrows—especially when the author tries to convince his readers that these two authors offer “deeply complementary” (p. 33) views of history, that they “share an overall sense of meaningful life” (p. 40), and that there exist “overwhelming similarities in both their overall conceptions of philosophy as historical critique and their figurations of how critique might be carried out” (p. 42). For Benjamin, we are told, has a strong “suspicion of claims to progress” (p. 107), and on his view history “displays no tendency toward progress” (p. 138).  Rather, history is primarily a story of “decline” and “disintegration” (p. 151). In place of Enlightenment progressivist views of history Benjamin advocates a “‘mystical conception of history’” (p. 138) that aims at “‘the orgiastic disclosure […] of all the secret sources of tradition’” (p. 105) in order to bring about “‘a historical apocatastasis’” (p. 103)—a restitution, restoration, and reestablishment of an earlier condition. Kant would have to regard much of this as Schwärmerei—enthusiasm, but in Locke’s Enlightenment sense of a dangerous attitude “freed from all reason and check of reflection”; one “rising from the conceits of a warmed or overweening brain” (Locke 1975, IV.xix.7).

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Alison Ross on Richard Eldridge’s “Images of History”


RICHARD ELDRIDGE | Images of History: Kant, Benjamin, Freedom, and the Human Subject | Oxford University Press 2016


“Historical understanding is conjectural, imaginative, and projective as much as it is archival and systematic.”

Images of History, p. 148

By Alison Ross

At the beginning of Richard Eldridge’s Images of History, he presents the difference between history as a “mere chronicle of the incidental” and “writing […] political and social history” so that “related causes and outcomes” are identified in relation to ideals (p. 3). There is a difficulty in arriving at retrospective certainty about the causes and meanings of one’s actions (p. 1), but the analogy to historical “causes and outcomes” gives this difficulty a distinctive shape, which Eldridge parses as “modern problems of orientation” (p. 17; emphasis added).

An individual may not know from introspective examination whether they responded to someone’s distress from selfless concern, or whether they were polishing their self-conception as a moral paragon. How they characterise their behaviour does not resolve this issue satisfactorily, if one is interested in (Kantian) questions of moral intention.

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