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

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