Reply to Baumann, Hanna and Pickford


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


By Martin Shuster

Let me say thank you to the three respondents in this wonderful forum. I have learned a lot from all of their responses and they have each given me much to think about, suggesting potential future avenues of inquiry. More specifically, thank you to Henry Pickford for charitable, interesting, and frankly flattering comments about my book. Pickford and I have been in conversation about these issues for quite some time now, and I appreciate the opportunity to engage with such a sharp interlocutor. Robert Hanna’s response is also appreciated, especially for its intellectual generosity. Embedded in it is a sophisticated reading of Kant, which I unfortunately do not here have the space to address in the detail it would require. Finally, I am equally grateful to Charlotte Baumann’s rich, expansive, and highly probing comments. Especially, I am struck by the deep, and to my mind important, methodological issues that emerge from her commentary. In fact, when responding to her, I shall start with them in order to begin to address some of her more specific points. Let me address each critique in turn.
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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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