Brandom on Freedom and Objectivity

I’ve been trying to write on Brandom, relating his project to the problem of the threatened antinomy between autonomy and external obligations that I’ve been trying to develop. The somewhat lengthy results can be found below the fold. I’m not sure that I’ve nailed all the details yet, especially with respect to some of the more technical aspects of Brandom’s system, but I think the gist is clear.

Also, on the topic of Brandom, N Pepperell and L Magee’s excellent conference paper on him and Habermas can be found here.

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Swings and Roundabouts

I am reading J.M. Bernstein’s Adorno: Disenchantment and Ethics with a curious mix of delight and horror. Delight, because he outlines a tremendously exciting argument that reconstructs an Adornian story about disenchantment, conceptuality and the role of rationality in connection with normativity, all under the auspices of a particularistic realism. Horror, for the same reason: this is because in large part it is almost exactly the same story that I had hoped to tell about normativity, here told simply at the level of ethics. So, while on the one hand, it’s fantastic to see this story developed in such detail, I keep having lots of mercenary disappointment that someone has ‘got there first’. In terms of my thesis, my strategic aim was to counterpose McDowell and Brandom’s positions, side with McDowell in the broad outlines but to insist on a number of necessary inflections or modifications to his position. It now looks like Adorno (or at least Bernstein) has already broken much of the ground in this respect. In a way, of course, this is great, because it saves me a lot of difficulty bumbling about in the semi-darkness, allowing me more time to rigorously establish and finesse the position I want to develop. But, on the other hand, to a large extent it robs it of what little originality (I thought) my project had. Nevertheless, I’m sure there’ll be plenty in Adorno’s story as Bernstein reconstructs it that I will want to challenge or improve upon.

Either way, it’s a very good read (and I highly recommend Bernstein’s audio lectures on Kant and Hegel too). Here’s an excerpt from the Introduction:

[I]n his account of the disenchanting of the world, Adorno contends that not only does it eliminate previous objects of ethical esteem, but more emphatically and importantly it eliminates what I want to call the forms of object relation that previously had been manifest in ethical reasoning: experience, knowledge, and authority. Disenchantment thus effects not only beliefs (trading in bad ones for good ones), and a transformation of the objects of knowledge (eliminating certain certain items — starting with the gods and coming to an extinguishing of values as belonging to the furniture of the universe) but even more significantly our modes of cognitive interaction with objects. It is in virtue of the enlightenmnet critique of reliance on experience and authority that that ethical cognition too disappears (into sentiment, emotivism, will etc.); and with the disappearance of ethical cognition the entire structure of moral insight collapses.

J.M. Bernstein, Adorno: Disenchantment and Ethics, p.32

Hegelian Glee-Watch: Holy Of Holies Edition

As with most things Kantian, I think the ‘Kantian Gloom-Watch’ section might be improved by a Hegelian supplement. So, here’s Hegel sticking the boot in:

The esoteric teaching of the Kantian philosophy — that the understanding ought not to go beyond experience, else the cognitive faculty will become a theoretical reason which by itself generates nothing but fancies of the brain — this was a justification from a philosophical quarter for the renunciation of speculative thought. In support of this popular teaching came the cry of modern educationists that the needs of the time demanded attention to immediate requirements, that just as experience was the primary factor for knowledge, so for skill in public and private life, practice and practical training generally were essential and alone necessary, theoretical insight being harmful even. Philosophy and ordinary common sense thus co-operating to bring about the downfall of metaphysics, there was seen the strange spectacle of a cultured nation without a metaphysics — like a temple richly ornamented in other respects without a holy of holies.

Hegel, Science of Logic, 25-6