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Andrew Norris "Receiving Autonomy: On Cavell’s Perfectionism"

17:00-19:00, Wednesday, September 27, 2017
Collaboration Room 2 (4F), Building 18, University of Tokyo, Komaba [Map]

Receiving Autonomy: On Cavell’s Perfectionism

Prof. Andrew Norris (Political Science, University of California, Santa Barbara)

Discussant: Nakajima Takahiro (University of Tokyo)


In this talk I discuss Stanley Cavell’s conception of Emersonian Perfectionism, focusing upon an aspect of it that Cavell scholars have not yet sufficiently explored, that of its relation to Kant. The importance of this relation is plain, given Emerson’s acknowledgment that the term Transcendentalism comes from Kant’s use of the term transcendental. But what the precise relation between the two might be is not wholly clear, particularly when Transcendentalism is understood in Cavell’s sense. I demonstrate that, for Cavell, receptivity is the key to Emerson’s inheritance of Kant’s theoretical philosophy, as partiality is the key to his inheritance of Kant’s practical philosophy. Both receptivity and partiality are characterized by a refusal to categorically distinguish between passivity and activity. In my discussion I emphasize the question of partiality, arguing that this should be understood as a paradoxical but deeply significant rethinking of Kantian autonomy. Cavell hints as much when he writes that Emerson “composed ‘Self-Reliance’ with [Kant’s] Groundwork as if open at his elbow,” but such hints have not yet been taken as seriously as I take them. Partiality for Emerson names both the individual agent’s inherent lack and its want for change and growth. Such desire is directed not at objects but at other subjects with whom the self as partial is necessarily in relation. The shameful experience of lack is, on Cavell’s account, the necessary precondition for growth and for the transformative encounter with an exemplary other who enables the self’s conversion of the nihilistic conformity of everyday life as it is now lived. Emerson’s and Cavell’s almost Hegelian emphasis upon this necessary moment of negativity is easily overlooked; but it is, as I demonstrate, absolutely central to their “rethinking” of the Kantian conception of autonomy, in which the role played by law in Kant is taken by the agent’s attraction to the other and what she exemplifies.


Andrew Norris is Associate Professor of Political Science at the Univ. of California, Santa Barbara. He is the author of Becoming Who We Are: Politics and Practical Philosophy in the Work of Stanley Cavell (Oxford University Press, 2017), numerous articles on political theory, and the editor of: Truth and Democracy (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012), The Claim to Community: Essays on Stanley Cavell and Political Philosophy (Stanford University Press, 2006), and Politics, Metaphysics, and Death: Essays on Giorgio Agamben’s Homo Sacer (Duke University Press, 2005).

Language: English | Admission Free | No Registration Required

Organized by the University of Tokyo Center for Philosophy (UTCP)


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