History of European Ideas 31 (2005) 61–84

Karl Jaspers and Theodor W. Adorno: the metaphysics of the human
Chris Thornhill
Kings College, London WC2R 2LS, UK Available online 24 December 2004

Abstract This article argues that debates about the theoretical relations between Critical Theory and Existential philosophy have to date been excessively focused on the connections between Martin Heidegger and Theodor W. Adorno, and should now extend their analysis to consider points of dialogue between Adorno and Karl Jaspers. Examining the cognitive, ethical and political implications of their works, the article claims that Jaspers and Adorno have much in common and contribute in related ways to our understanding of certain important issues. This is the case in their views on idealism and on the politics of humanism, but it is most evident in their reflections on the role of metaphysics in modern philosophy: both seek to salvage the contents of metaphysical thinking, and they denounce the tendency towards purely immanent or autonomist accounts of human reality in the theoretical traditions to which they belong. Their views on metaphysics are especially apparent in their interpretations of Kant, in their critiques of neo-Kantianism, and in their shared hostility to Heidegger’s reaction to Kantian philosophy. r 2004 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Introduction In recent years, much philosophical energy has been devoted to demonstrating points of theoretical symmetry between Critical Theory around the Frankfurt School and certain components of Existential phenomenology. Indeed, a minor industry has been founded on the attempt to detect fundamental philosophical agreements
E-mail address: (C. Thornhill). 0191-6599/$ - see front matter r 2004 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. doi:10.1016/j.histeuroideas.2004.09.002

62 C. Thornhill / History of European Ideas 31 (2005) 61–84

between Theodor W. Adorno and Martin Heidegger.1 On a purely intellectual–historical level, it is no surprise that such interest has attached itself to the possible relations between fundamental ontology and Critical Theory. The proponents of Critical Theory clearly saw Heidegger as their chief and most challenging philosophical enemy, and the detection of ambiguity in the debate between Heidegger and the critical theorists clears the ground for a partial reconciliation of the two most influential lines of twentieth-century German philosophy. On a more conceptual and thematic level, however, it remains rather surprising that the altogether more striking points of shared intention and potential dialogue between Adorno and the other major Existential philosopher, Karl Jaspers, have not been addressed in philosophical and political literature. By taking as its focus the relationship between Adorno and Jaspers, this essay seeks to contribute to and expand the broad debate on theoretical connections between Critical Theory and Existential philosophy. In this, the essay does not suggest that there existed an extensive personal or academic exchange between Adorno and Jaspers. However, it does argue that attempts to mediate between Existentialism and Critical Theory should begin with Adorno and Jaspers, not with Adorno and Heidegger. Moreover, it claims that both Adorno and Jaspers share important perspectives on some of the major questions of 20th-century German philosophy—notably, on the legacy of Kantian philosophy, on the nature of freedom and authentic life, and on the preconditions of political humanism. Above all, it claims that Jaspers and Adorno contribute jointly and similarly to debates on the fate metaphysics in modern thought, and both are connected by the fact that they oppose the eradication of metaphysics from constructions and analyses of human reality which characterize the philosophical lineages, Existentialism and Marxism, to which they are usually aligned. Both thus provide related grounds for reconsidering the role of metaphysics in contemporary philosophy. For obvious political and biographical reasons, the associates of the Institute of Social Research in Frankfurt am Main are usually seen as the implacable adversaries of Karl Jaspers. In addition to his general association with the anti-Marxist German
Most notably, see: Hermann Morchen, Adorno und Heidegger. Untersuchung einer philosophischen ¨ Kommunikationsverweigerung (Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta, 1981). Morchen emphasizes the parallels between ¨ Adorno and Heidegger in their views on reification (pp. 553–554) and in their critique of formal subjective epistemology (pp. 489–490). Fred Dallmayr’s less penetrating treatment identifies a ‘negative ontology’ in Adorno’s work, in contrast to Heidegger’s ‘positive ontology’. (Fred Dallmayr, Life-world, Modernity and Critique. Paths between Heidegger and the Frankfurt School (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1991) 66. Alexander Duttmann’s work on Adorno and Heidegger makes more of a case for particular points of symmetry ¨ between Adorno and Heidegger than for underlying agreements between them. However, his is one of the very few works which notices important similarities between Adorno and Jaspers. (Alexander Garcia Duttmann, Das Geda ¨chtnis des Denkens. Versuch u ¨ber Heidegger und Adorno (Frankfurt a. M.: Suhrkamp, ¨ 1991) 134. In his excellent Adorno. A Critical Introduction (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1998), Simon Jarvis argues that the relation between Adorno and Heidegger can be best understood as arising from ‘their initial context in the attempt to go beyond neo-Kantian transcendental idealism’ (p. 201), and that Adorno accordingly interprets Heidegger’s ontology as a ‘miscarried attack on idealism’ (p. 206). Like Jarvis, my own account also locates the relation between Heidegger and Adorno primarily in the debate on idealism and neo-Kantianism.

1962) 49. now grandly stylized as a ‘pathos of existence’.4 in fact. attempt to develop a doctrine of objective experience in order to overcome the formal subjectivism of Kantian idealism. Adorno wrote long invectives against Heidegger. 9th edition (Berlin: de Gruyter. Kierkegaard. at two decisive junctures in twentieth-century history Jaspers was the specific object of bitter critique amongst representatives of the leftleaning German intelligentsia. Adorno. .ARTICLE IN PRESS C. Adorno asserts that Jaspers’s Existentialism offers nothing more than an outmoded reincarnation of Kierkegaardian ideas—especially of the ‘old. 5 ibid p. similarly. M. 4 ¨ Theodor W. In his early writings on Kierkegaard. the Western Alliance. and especially of the Kierkegaardian emphasis on inner life as the location of personal authenticity. absurd Protestant motif of faith. Jaspers’s work at times moved alarmingly close to widespread patterns of revolutionary conservatism and radical anti-parliamentarism. by viewing integral experiences as the property of privileged and authentic individuals. rooted in the subject’. Zur deutschen Ideologie (Frankfurt a. and he clearly did not take him entirely seriously. and ideologically burdened. During the death-throes of the Weimar democracy after 1930. they remain ensnared in the cognitive antinomies of subjective idealism which they seek to correct.: Suhrkamp.5 However. This political resentment is clearly reflected in Adorno’s attitude to Jaspers. his enthusiasm for certain hallmark policies of the early Adenauer period—especially for the social-market economy. Adorno associated Kierkegaard and Jaspers so closely that his view on Jaspers can often be deciphered between the lines of his interpretations of Kierkegaard. in fact. but he did not write very extensively about Jaspers. Die geistige Situation der Zeit. his objections in 2 This is most evident in his lament on the lack of true leadership in modern welfare-democracies. which assumed particular centrality in Jaspers’s version of Existential thinking. Adorno clearly distinguishes between Kierkegaard and the interpretations of his work proposed by Jaspers and Heidegger. Thornhill / History of European Ideas 31 (2005) 61–84 63 academic establishment. Adorno explains. As a result. although he was one of the few intellectuals of note who had remained in Germany during the National Socialist era and still emerged without acute political contamination (he was relieved of his professorship in 1937). However. In his later readings of Kierkegaard.: Suhrkamp.2 and he was consequently reviled on the left as an implicit fellow-traveller of the far right. his comments in Jargon of Authenticity underline his broad rejection of Existentialism. Konstruktion des Asthetischen (Frankfurt a. By imagining true experience only as the despairing inner reactions of a static human subject. which ultimately falls behind the emancipatory universalism of Kant himself. they stabilize a vain and self-dramatizing image of authentic experience. M. Jargon der Eigentlichkeit. After 1949. and for elite-democratic governance by Kanzlerprinzip—meant that Jaspers was also widely perceived on the left as a passive apologist for political restoration. both Kierkegaard and Jaspers eliminate the socially mediated component of selfexperience. 1999) 46. 244. 3 Theodor W. he argues that Kierkegaard’s Existential theory of experience is a failed. for example.3 Throughout his intellectual trajectory. Adorno. 1964) 27. See: Karl Jaspers. In this work.

and directly obstructs the realization of a genuinely valid humanism. 8 ´ Georg Lukacs. 43.ARTICLE IN PRESS 64 C. like other left-leaning critics. Generally. which revolves around a pathos-filled. who argues that Jaspers is motivated by a ‘deadly hatred of the masses’ and by a ‘fear of democracy and socialism’. 1955) 456. by strategies of instrumental–rational control through which reason dominates the contents of thought. Erbschaft dieser Zeit (Zurich: Oprecht. is that the conditions of social existence in contemporary society are characterized. therefore. The central claim of Adorno’s philosophy. 55–56. pseudo-heroic model of the suffering subject. Adorno zum Geda ¨chtnis. like that of ´ Ernst Bloch and Georg Lukacs. and they find their contemporary apotheosis in the techniques of exchange.: Fischer. 1969) 12. 6 . 9 On Adorno’s humanism. 108. views his philosophy as monotonous subjectivism. Eine Sammlung Hermann Schweppenhauser Ed.7 Adorno does not quite reach the same levels of invective ´ as Lukacs. 1971) 52–75. and he shares Lukacs’s view that Jaspers’s existentialsubjectivist humanism reflects a moment in the degradation of bourgeois reason and a political falsification of genuine humanity.11 Adorno’s philosophical method is consequently based in the conviction that modern reason denies itself the possibility ´ Ernst Bloch.6 Above all. and which is prepared to endorse an outward ethic of extreme political relativity and acquiescence. for Adorno. in their totality. 56. Adorno gives a description of Jaspers which.10 and in the resultant desire to dominate nature. Jargon der Eigentlichkeit. M. see: Alfred Schmidt. (Frankfurt a. 11 ibid p. and so forfeits the possibility of truthful objective experience. in defining human authenticity as an invariable interior substrate of all human life. 10 Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno.8 Nonetheless. Existentialismus oder ¨ Marxismus? (Berlin: Aufbau-Verlag 1951) 48–49. Freudian social psychology and Marxist political economy. Georg Lukacs. regimentation and exploitation which support advanced capitalism. Adorno sees the doctrine of humanism contained in Jaspers’s Existentialism as an entirely ideological outlook which. Dialektik der Aufkla ¨rung: Philosophische Fragmente (Frankfurt a. ‘Adorno—ein Philosoph des realen Humanismus’. have their anthropological source in the original human anxiety in face of nature. pp. Die Zersto ¨rung der Vernunft (Berlin: Luchterhand. hinders reflection on the social and material conditions required to permit authentic human subjectivity. and in the political implications of these projects. M. Thornhill / History of European Ideas 31 (2005) 61–84 these works to the socio-historical indeterminacy and the ideologically suspicious metaphysics of the subject in Kierkegaard’s philosophy always intimate an oblique political–epistemological critique of Jaspers. These strategies. Adorno’s animosity toward Jaspers is directly founded in the distinctions between their philosophical projects. he obviously sympathizes ´ with these extreme diagnoses. 7 Adorno. Theodor W. 1935) 222. drawing on aspects of Nietzschean vitalism.9 Shared antipathies Beyond biographical considerations.: ¨ Suhrkamp.

49. 15 This is the underlying sense of Jaspers’s theory of ‘Gehause’ (cages). Fu Vorlesungen gehalten vom 25.ARTICLE IN PRESS C. Jaspers’s philosophy is therefore relatively unconcerned by economic or sociological questions. and he argues that human subjectivity requires a critical labour of self-overcoming to disclose its structure as fundamentally other than a technical. 14 ibid p. which cannot be explicated in socio-economic categories. it is only through intense critical reflection on its own categorial form that reason might imagine (but not institute) possible modes of cognition and existence. there is no region of subjective life which is not intertwined with the system of economic coercion. and human freedom cannot be imagined without a fundamental transformation of reason. as mentioned above. In fact.13 Negative-dialectical thinking is thus always an attempt to reflect a condition of cognitive freedom. Vernunft und Existenz. and it construes ibid p. Reason and existence. Psychologie der Weltanschauungen (Munich: Piper.15 and the socially pervasive types of scientific.14 Like Adorno. 18 Karl Jaspers. ceaselessly deploy techniques of subterfuge and self-protection in order to obviate their confrontation with their innermost possibilities. I: Philosophische Weltorientierung (Munich: Piper.12 For Adorno. Negative Dialektik (Frankfurt a. 1935) 73–74. beyond its established cognitive and objective limits. and can always be made present through engaged acts of communication and passionate self-choice. it tends towards an endorsement of liberal–republican politics and liberal–capitalist economics. His Existentialism is in fact designed to show how human consciousness might elucidate the possibilities of liberty and integrity which it always incorporates. Von der Wahrheit (Munich: Piper.17 Unlike Adorno. 1985) 282–283. 1991) 48–49. In consequence. 16 Karl Jaspers. Jaspers sees authentic reason and authentic existence as originary resources of individual subjectivity: he defines integral human subjectivity as an invariable quality. Jaspers also proceeds from the belief that human reason and subjectivity are profoundly distorted and impoverished under contemporary social conditions.18 Authentic existence and truthful thinking. Ma 1935 (Groningen: ¨nf ¨rz Wolter. which explains how particular ¨ mental forms provide defence against the alarming possibilities of existence. Theodor W. and of the processes of economic production and social organization which result from it. bis 29. vol. Thornhill / History of European Ideas 31 (2005) 61–84 65 of a true encounter with the objects of thought and restricts meaningful knowledge of other people. 150. 1994) 4. See: Karl Jaspers. in which all subjective and objective relations of domination are overcome. and so freely relate itself. to the transcendent and original conditions of its being. however. utilitarian and end-oriented reason constantly obscure the capacities of human being for truthful cognitive experience. 1966) 259. Philosophie. 17 Karl Jaspers. he claims. but they are not genetically connected with the capitalist system of material organization. 13 12 .16 Jaspers also asserts that reason habitually closes itself against its most genuine contents. which are not exclusively regulated by the dominatory functions of the human subject and not wholly determined by the exchange-relations of the modern economy.: Suhrkamp. M. are certainly suppressed by the technical order of being in modern society. above all. Adorno. purposive or instrumental order. he explains.

38.26 In similar voice. p. M. in: Nachgelassene Schriften section IV. Existenzphilosophie. 25 ibid.’ he argues. p. Reason has thus become a repetitive process of categorial selfassertion. 27 Horkheimer and Adorno. 49. Dialektik der Aufkla ¨rung. M.: Fischer. and which leaves the greatest liberty for free cultural and ethical interaction between reasonable human beings. Vom Ursprung und Ziel der Geschichte (Frankfurt a. 41. Each of them is lost without the other. 41. For all their disagreement about the socio-economic determinacy of the human subject. p.23 and true reason is always in solidarity with whatever ‘breaks down’ the structure of its own formality. 34. 20 19 . Both centre their philosophies on the conviction that human reason in its current forms is limited or blocked against true knowledge.’27 The subject in its existing rational form. Modern rationality. Jaspers and Adorno might—in certain respects—be placed close together. 1955) 173. and. This becomes clear in Adorno’s recently published lectures on Kant. p. Kants Kritik der reinen Vernunft. so that reason might incorporate elements of subjective and objective experience. 22 Jaspers. which would challenge and transfigure its conceptual structure. because of this. 49. p. Adorno concludes. the human subject has been reduced to the empty shell of an ‘eternally recurrent I think. the underlying philosophical intentions of their work are at times closely related. even this most summary comparison of Jaspers and Adorno reveals that.: Suhrkamp. ‘is a lie’. has reduced human subjectivity to a sequence of regulatory functions which extirpate all vital content from reason. Most especially.ARTICLE IN PRESS 66 C.’22 The ‘truly rational’ being is therefore one who is open to ‘unreason’. is an attempt to explain how reason might overcome the formal limitations commonly imposed upon it. 24 Jaspers. Thornhill / History of European Ideas 31 (2005) 61–84 capitalism. Jaspers argues that authentic personal existence depends upon a reconfiguration of reason. and allow itself to be confronted and restructured by these.19 However. and that it might allow for modes of cognitive experience. p. esp. both imply that the truth of reason lies in the possibility that it might also be other than mere reason. p.25 and reason which is not impelled by experience can only ever be a spurious ‘transparency’. Vernunft und Existenz. 21 Very good on the relation of reason to experience in Jaspers is Elisabeth Young-Bruehl.24 Reason as a pure ‘origin of order’ is thus invalid. Adorno argues that the precondition of truthful social existence lies in a reconception of reason. 32. likewise. 1981). as philosophers who see the technical formality of reason as a profound problem for existence. 26 Jaspers. vol 4 edited by Rolf Tiedemann (Frankfurt a. 1995). as the economic order which is least likely to lead to totalitarianism. renouncing the classificatory and formalizing processes which underscore its operations. consequently. See: Theodor W. Vernunft und Existenz. and so locate itself in more adequate ways towards its own truth and towards the truth of its contents. 23 ibid. which vainly ‘confuses itself with substantial reality’. 85. beyond the political–economic distinctions in their approaches. p. amongst all existing types of economic administration. which strips itself of all objective experience in order to Karl Jaspers. Freedom and Karl Jaspers’s Philosophy (New Haven/London: Yale University Press.21 ‘Reason and existence. Adorno. ‘are inseparable.20 At the heart of both philosophies. he explains.

In the Kantian line of idealist philosophy. Both Heinrich Rickert.’28 The true subject can only be imagined as a ‘possibility’. p. 32 Adorno. 377. Thornhill / History of European Ideas 31 (2005) 61–84 67 uphold ‘the unconditionality of its own domination. 274.30 Both suggest moreover that the formal and self-limiting characteristics of modern reason are given clearest expression in Kantian idealism. justifies its insights.31 Both thus perceive Kantian philosophy as a cognitive system which chronically depreciates both existence and reason. Dialektik der Aufkla ¨rung. The basic claim in neo-Kantianism is that Kant’s philosophy should be construed primarily as a doctrine of practical autonomy. the scope of reason is hollowed out to a function of formal self-reflection and regulation. and purchases its synthetic integrity only through the suppression of the most genuine impulses of thought. both Jaspers and Adorno suggest that the formal restriction of reason arises from primary anthropological anxieties. and on foundational philosophy in general. p. both argue. of the Marburg School. both claim that in post-Enlightenment epistemology the means by which reason establishes its validity are fallacious. both cognitive and ethical. 30 Indeed. and he bemoans the ‘only occasional identification’ of the personal and the universal in Kant’s ethics (Karl Jaspers. Psychologie der Weltanschauungen. which dominated German academic philosophy in the first decades of the twentieth century. Negative Dialektik. and so by generating meaning on purely formal foundations. and both argue that Adorno. which it itself is. the self-limiting of reason in the name of formal certainty results from an original existential fear of conceptual instability and transcendence (Jaspers. Ibid p. 31 Jaspers also laments the ‘narrowing’ of reason in Kantian epistemology. arising from the subject’s own desire ‘to extract itself from the lie’. and thought proscribes all contents—phenomenal. which shows how human reason can become consistently accountable for its truth-claims and ethical norms by divesting itself of all externality and by deducing formally categorical laws to regulate its cognitive and ethical operations. only by imposing highly self-protective limits and schemes of regularity on its operations. concentrated in the philosophies of the Marburg School and the South West German School. 1957) 606). Negative Dialektik. Modern reason. and that Kantian accounts of reason have particular responsibility for the malaise in modern rational existence. of the South West German School. p. 9). and Hermann Cohen. for Jaspers. Die groX en Philosophen (Munich: Piper. 274.29 Underlying these points of fleeting contiguity between Adorno and Jaspers is the fact that both share certain critical perspectives on the idealist tradition. experiential and metaphysical—which question the validity of its synthetic form. 304). both explain.32 Against neo-Kantianism The hostility to Kantian philosophy in Adorno and Jaspers can perhaps be best interpreted against the background of neo-Kantian thought. 29 28 . Primarily.ARTICLE IN PRESS C. Adorno ascribes reason’s self-curtailment to an original human terror of naturalness (Horkheimer and Adorno. p. emphasize the primacy of practical reason in their interpretations of Kant.

as it applies categories to objective phenomena.B. is always formally other than being itself. however. is an ethically and cognitively self-legislating transcendental subject which constitutes for itself the conditions and the limits of obtainable knowledge. System der Philosophie. liberated from all natural or metaphysical determinacy.37 Autonomously secured knowledge. and many critics of neo-Kantianism—including Jaspers and Adorno—have viewed neo-Kantianism as evolving directly from some of the more formalist elements of Kant’s own philosophy. It is not difficult to see how the exponents of neo-Kantianism should arrive at this legal-humanist reading of Kant. material or pure-metaphysical principles and forces. which independently legislates the preconditions of valid knowledge and valid action. in: Werke. This region of knowledge. repeatedly intimates that practical reason should be accorded a certain primacy over pure reason.34 Cohen. Kant himself. p. and so frees human existence from all traces of that ancient ‘pathology’ which is heteronomy: i.C. 35 Immanuel Kant.e. although always circumspect on this point. is a legal humanism. II. Kant argues. 33 . these categories then provide a matrix within which the subject can autonomously order its insights and syntheses. vol. Kant argues that the validity of human cognition is the corollary of the ‘legislatory’ functions of the human subject. 6 vols. 37 ibid p. he explains. most particularly. for independently deducing the limits and conditions of ethical integrity. Furthermore. In his theory of pure reason. 36 ibid pp. Underlying the ethical and cognitive ideas of the Marburg School. See for example Heinrich Rickert. asserts that the problem of the legal subject is the primary focus of philosophy after Kant. and that the constitution of the human subject as a consistent and universal source of internal and external legislation marks the highest unity and realization of human reason. values or laws. which sees the condition of legislative autonomy. can only ever be a transcendental ‘illusion’. Wilhelm Weischedel. it is at least arguable that Kant’s doctrine of pure reason is also committed to providing a juridical or autonomist account of reason’s operations. ¨ 34 Hermann Cohen. therefore. zweiter Theil: Ethik des reinen Willens (Berlin: Bruno Cassirer. Thornhill / History of European Ideas 31 (2005) 61–84 even the purely cognitive operations of reason are regulated by practical norms. ed. Der Gegenstand der Erkenntnis. as the practical fulfilment of the most profound and constitutive potentials of human life.35 and that the highest function of humanity is its capacity for autonomy: that is. and its substantial or phenomenal content is only a variable in the categories by which reason legislates its realm of application. 506. Mohr. determination by natural. Such knowledge also excludes all metaphysical and experiential contents from the realm of what is knowable. 679. 1904) 309. At the centre of the Kantian universe. Einfu ¨hrung in die Transzendentalphilosophie 6te Auflage (Tubingen: J. 1966). and so concentrate knowledge on the narrowly intelligible region over which it can exercise jurisdiction. 401–402.33 At the heart of neo-Kantianism is thus an analysis of reason as a practical– juridical function. therefore. Kritik der reinen Vernunft. (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft.ARTICLE IN PRESS 68 C.36 The subject obtains reliable knowledge. 1928) 437.

the unity of the world. and which defined Kantian thinking as a doctrine of epistemological and ethical legislation. and practically to engender categorical principles for the validation of human ethical behaviour. 1990) 159. in short. autonomously to organize and to preserve the transcendental foundations of this knowledge. which— ´ to use the contentious and critical term employed by Lukacs and Adorno—is legislatively reified against the plural phenomena of being. The validity of human cognition depends. The outermost metaphysical or transcendental limits of knowledge. might be seen to define the operations of reason as essentially juridical functions. Kant’s transcendentalism.39 and they serve only to give ideal order and coherence to reason’s transcendental jurisdiction. and they demarcate the full extent (or totality) of the realm of objectivity about which reason can have consistently tenable knowledge. and the existence of God). which it then imputes as the basis for the organization and regulation of knowledge and action. 3. and against the transcendent questions of metaphysics. is a theory of totality. As discussed. Thornhill / History of European Ideas 31 (2005) 61–84 69 At the core of Kant’s formal-illusory concept of truth. are constituted as admissions that substantial metaphysical knowledge is not possible. and they place regulative vetos on reason’s transgression beyond the perimeter of accountable validity. against the vital experiences of human life. therefore. Reason is thus primarily a static regulatory capacity. Fr. moreover. the philosophical horizon in which German philosophers of the early to mid 20th century approached intellectual maturity was dominated by analyses of Kant which reinforced the juridical component in his thinking. which provides pre-stabilized synthetic categories for the interpretation and ordering of phenomena. 331. W. ibid p. Kant is always at pains to stress that the totality of possible knowledge implied by these metaphysical ideas is not a totality of anything. and constitutes its own cognitive and moral autonomy and unity by prescribing legislative edicts to itself. these analyses championed Kant as a theorist who was determined to put an end to all metaphysical speculation and to restrict reason to questions of this-worldly ibid p. 706. reason constitutes itself as a self-reproducing unity of knowledge.40 In each of these respects. Knowledge obtained within this perimeter is thus always open to the accusation that it is knowledge of nothing. von Hermann vol. (Frankfurt am Main: Klostermann. 39 38 .38 These metaphysical ideas constitute the primary foundation for human cognition: that is. For Kant. However. Gesamtausgabe ed. 40 Martin Heidegger. which is also sustained by an intensely juridical conception of reason. and it is the duty of this subject to determine the extent of possible knowledge.ARTICLE IN PRESS C. upon the capacity of the rational subject to deduce through regressive synthesis the ‘unconditioned’ or transcendental ideas (i. the immortality of the soul. Kant und das Problem der Metaphysik. he asserts. the rational human subject is the primary fact of being. The ideas which mark the bounds of human knowledge have no determinate content. Above all. they articulate necessary preconditions for the meaningful systematization of cognitive experience.e. imposes controls on the questions which can be posed by human consciousness.

reason encounters lived antinomies which can only be clarified at a higher level of reflexivity. M. Reason approaches truthful knowledge. Existential reason. See: Natorp. he reconstructs Kant’s transcendental ideas as distinct realms of personal existence. in: Kant-Studien (1912) 17. commencing with objective being (world). 73. 2nd edition (Berlin: de Gruyter. it is important to note that both are philosophers who. which provides for a doctrine of existential communication. 49. 468. and proceeding to transcendence (God). 198. 1956) 49. existing and transcendent life towards an ever-greater (but never-realized) unity of lived knowledge. but where it is impelled by particular experiences towards new modes of self-reflection and selfawareness. however. leading through existence (soul). Existenzphilosophie. Existenzphilosophie. not where.44 Jaspers thus recasts Kant’s transcendental ideas as ideas of experience. p. and so dispose itself to its contents in meaningful reflection and interpretation. Jaspers proposes a theory of cognition based in a notion of existential reason. Jaspers states. Drei Vorlesungen gehalten am Freien Deutschen Hochstift in Frankfurt a. is practically apparent as ‘the total will to communication’. Philosophie I. Jaspers construes experiences as moments of subjective logic which transform reason and dislocate it from its realized limits. At each level. and their works form parallel attempts to overcome the formal reification—or juridification—of reason in Kant’s idealism. Psychologie der Weltanschauungen. and so constantly alter its relation toward itself and toward its contents. Responding to the juridical implications of Kantian conceptions of pure reason.45 This theory of existential reason also contains a crucial hermeneutic or communicative dimension. 43 ibid p.ARTICLE IN PRESS 70 C. In this reconstruction. p.41 For an understanding of Jaspers and Adorno. ‘Kant und die Marburger Schule’. in which it enacts and reflects its distension This is expressed most perfectly by Paul Natorp. it formally reproduces its own functional unity.43 In his major earlier philosophical work. each idea describes a level of reflexive being. 41 . pp. 42 Karl Jaspers. It is only in decisive communication with another consciousness. he explains. 53.42 Far from excluding experience from reason. Most especially. and the ‘unconditioned’ character of ideas expresses itself as a vitally selftranscending confrontation between thought and the forms which thought has instituted for its own stability.46 Speech is the modality in which consciousness accepts the limitations of its cognitive structure. Philosophie (1932). 45 Jaspers. 44 Jaspers. 46 Jaspers. Thornhill / History of European Ideas 31 (2005) 61–84 cognitive integrity and ethical autonomy. both attack the association of human integrity and rational self-legislation or autonomy which forms the core of neo-Kantian thinking. centred in a prestructured subject. that reason can truly detach itself from its formal order. for example. 193–221. and both are fundamentally preoccupied with the endeavour to conceive of authentic humanity in terms which reject the neo-Kantian construction of truly human being as a condition of legal self-reliance. reacted quite vehemently against this postKantian intellectual milieu. and reason is drawn by the antinomical structure of its experiences through the levels of worldly. p. in consequence. both at the level of pure reason and practical reason. September 1937.

is not bound by formal laws. 235.51 It is for this reason that communication has such importance for Jaspers. And this freedom is always the freedom of reason from itself. Jaspers argues that true morality only becomes possible through the experience of reason’s unconditioned freedom. in which it knows true law as ‘its own imperative’.49 born out of its own experiences and vitally relevant for its own evolution and integrity. on Jaspers’s account. 49 Jaspers. It is thus only where the thought can self-critically transcend the form of thought that truthful reflection. In fact. 333. Jaspers explains. Philosophie III. 27).52 In consequence. 261). He too argues that thinking which has evolved under the idealist banner of Enlightenment imposes coercive structures of identity on the things about which it thinks. rather. and where it feels itself unconditionally drawn by these beyond the attitudes and rational limits which it already occupies. For this ‘ethic of unconditionedness’. Adorno’s epistemological critique of idealist theories of consciousness has certain similarities with that proposed by Jaspers. and of itself. Philosophie II. True ethical existence. whilst Kant ties practical moral integrity to the pre-formed unconditioned autonomy of consciousness. of other people. 51 ibid p. p. p. Truly ethical existence evolves at those moments where human consciousness interprets its contents as absolute. 808–809. 330. knowledge only genuinely becomes knowledge where it radically disrupts and alters the categorical order of the subject. 52 Jaspers.ARTICLE IN PRESS C. Jaspers’s experiential reconstruction of Kant’s ideas also implies that human ethical life cannot be founded in the self-legislating consciousness or in formally unconditioned moral principles. aligning all things to pre-formed categories in the subject. Philosophie I. p. Existential philosophy itself is the ‘self-illumination of unconditionedness’ (Jaspers. and truthful existence. The orientation of such thinking towards conceptual identity. Thornhill / History of European Ideas 31 (2005) 61–84 71 beyond its given forms. the law is not a formal–rational regulative for action.50 and leads consciousness to new levels of self-reflection and self-knowledge. he explains. At a more practical level. deduced in accordance with prior universal rational principles. Jaspers argues for an unstable and existential conception of authentic moral life and moral knowledge. but it follows intensely particular directives. It is only in communication that consciousness can recognize its structure as limited and constituted by another. are Jaspers. are ‘anchored in subjects’ (ibid p. Philosophie I. prevents the subject from gaining truthful knowledge of other things.47 At the very heart of Jaspers’s theory of knowledge is thus a fundamental rejection of Kant’s concept of the knowing subject as a pre-formed legislative centre. and so reveals truth-contents which necessarily remain ‘closed’ for idealist accounts of reason. pp. but these ideas are never fully manifest. it is an impulse which undermines all ‘rationally demonstrable’ laws.48 Instead. Ideas. and so they act as unconditioned impulses which lead particular existence beyond its fixed subjective and objective positions. Von der Wahrheit. 50 Jaspers. 48 47 . and for elaborating moral commitments with some claim to binding or unconditioned force. and public communication is always ‘the condition for taking hold of truth’. 185.

and so to structure all social interaction around ideas of freedom distilled from the closed mental acts of formally particularized and self-seeking social agents. the capacity for freedom. The most fundamental objective of Adorno’s entire philosophy is. Adorno. he thus intimates. and where destructively mimetic relations to objective contents.57 PostEnlightenment ideas of autonomy. the attempt to stabilize the human being as a fixed centre of ethical law-giving and cognitive order clearly leads to a depletion of what it means to be human.: Suhrkamp. and with the rejection of formal–ethical autonomy manifest in Jaspers’s work. 87. likewise. he claims. 184. Jaspers and Adorno both propose theories of consciousness which oppose Kant and the neo-Kantians because of their legal or autonomist account of human integrity. as an unblocking of what he 53 54 Adorno. ibid p. after Kant. 24. not mediated by formal concepts. the Kantian definition of freedom as a ‘function of regularity’ is always merely a ‘heteronomous and authoritarian’ fiction of moral integrity. 1970) 379. p. In close analogy. M. Kants Kritik der reinen Vernunft. Negative Dialektik. p. In these respects. 240. 58 ibid p. therefore. it is for this reason that the art work has such a privileged place in Adorno’s philosophy. Autonomy. Asthetische Theorie (Frankfurt a. Adorno proposes his own negative-dialectical or mimetic method. For Jaspers. is not the source of the human: the autonomist view of human being in fact conceives of the human only by abstracting it from all genuine existence and experience. Negative Dialektik. therefore. Adorno suggests that the truth of human reflection can only be approached by consciousness which places itself in a closer or dialectical relation to its contents and which openly—and existentially—accepts the subversion of its categories by this experience. 87. Adorno laments how the ‘ability to give oneself laws’ has established itself. in sum. Autonomy. Like Jaspers. 87. obstructs the genuine determinant of human being— namely. can be instantiated. Adorno’s critique of Kant again has certain similarities with Jaspers. p. and to a confinement of human life in extremely constrained definitions of its possible unity and self-realization. Adorno. to encourage thought to posit its own conceptual and judgmental identity as the full and final extent of truth. quite literally. to bring to light the ‘constitutive character’ of objects and objective experiences—what he terms ‘the non-conceptual’53—and so to reimagine reason and existence as open and exposed relations to their contents. in consequence. serve only to regularize human thought. For Adorno. .55 At a more practical level. 56 Adorno. as the ‘supreme concept’ of post-Enlightenment moral and cognitive philosophy.58 and it endlessly perpetuates the cognitive origins of such conditions. 55 ¨ Theodor W. as he views art as a site in which the altering of reason by objective experience can be disclosed.54 Most famously. Thornhill / History of European Ideas 31 (2005) 61–84 imaginable. 57 ibid p. This fiction obscures social conditions founded in unfreedom and repression.56 and he views this centration of thinking and acting on subjective autonomy as the malignant rational foundation of modern society.ARTICLE IN PRESS 72 C.

ibid p. that Adorno.59 and he argues that the notions of cognitive self-sufficiency and ethical autonomy resulting from idealism can only stand in the way of sustainable conceptions and experiences of human freedom and authentic existence. 60 59 . 151. The truth of reason can thus only reside in the task of self-critique by which it interprets other things and other people as non-identical others. Negative Dialektik. by contrast. 1955) 97. both identify crucial truth-contents in idealism which they are not willing to sacrifice in order to overcome its formalist tendencies. both still uphold the defining insight of idealism: namely. It would. 264. be misguided to say that Jaspers and Adorno are simply identical in all these respects. despite their attempts to overcome the formality of reason in Kantian philosophy. Schelling. is prepared to follow an ontological. 113. and he attempts above all to account for ways in which reason can be challenged and altered by the lived formation of the human subject. Adorno. Although both clearly oppose the idea that thought on its own is the origin and author of truth. and of all cognitive systems which ground validity in the assimilation of objects to pre-structured categories of reason. which they associate with Kant. Underlying the philosophical projects of Adorno and Jaspers. In clear opposition to Kierkegaard. Like Kierkegaard before him.ARTICLE IN PRESS C. positive-dialectical or positive-hermeneutical path beyond Kantian theories of consciousness. GroX e und Verha ¨ ¨ngnis (Munich: Piper. In fact. both still argue that human consciousness possesses a specific determinacy over and against objective-historical or material experience. p. most crucially. and permits itself to be intimately transfigured by its contents.61 Neither. Thornhill / History of European Ideas 31 (2005) 61–84 73 perceives as Kant’s formal-legislatory conception of reason. p. 121. is a concept of freedom which identifies human liberty in the moments of self-evasion where reason leaps across the shadow of its autonomy. underpinning the philosophical perspectives of both Jaspers and Adorno is a clear rejection of identity-based epistemology. therefore. Adorno suggests that reason must reconfigure itself in order to include nonreductive relations to other objects and to other people. outside its taxonomic boundaries. 62 Adorno. Negative Dialektik.60 Nonetheless. p. and that reflection cannot simply be levelled into objective or material processes. both claim that consciousness which simply proclaims itself in concrete unity with its phenomena only offers a spurious escape from the formality of idealism. neither Adorno nor Jaspers sanctions a resolutely anti-idealist path beyond the impasse of rational formalization or reification.62 Consequently. although both renounce idealism as an account of human knowledge. Indeed. The freedom of metaphysics Of the greatest importance in this analysis is the fact that. 61 Karl Jaspers. Jaspers protests mainly against the idealist formalization of reason because this ostracizes the contents of particular subjective experience from the purview of consciousness. Kants Kritik der reinen Vernunft. quite naturally.

I. whilst other contemporary critics of Kant and Kantianism criticize idealism because they consider it still surreptitiously metaphysical. and of its metaphysical origins. is thus its residual attachment to metaphysics. which frames human subjectivity as a timelessly ordering. unlike many of their most ´ influential philosophical contemporaries. Heidegger thinks that Kant’s concept of autonomy is miscarried because it does not genuinely provide an account of what it means to be autonomous.ARTICLE IN PRESS 74 C. In Heidegger’s work. as attempted by Heidegger. and because it confuses freedom with individual acts of rational self-legislation.63 but also Lukacs. but which views Kantian notions of autonomy as untenable because they are excessively subjectivized and insufficiently temporal and historical. through the translation of the 63 For Heidegger. and consequently to concentrate human life in total worldliness and total temporality. Heidegger’s answer to this is to renounce reason altogether as the ground of freedom. autonomist aspects of neo-Kantian thinking. The problem of reification is overcome here via a final disavowal of idealism. in consequence. not be accomplished. Hans Saner (Munich: Piper. Notizen zu Martin Heidegger ed. Heidegger’s interpretation of Kant thus ultimately actually extends and intensifies the anti-metaphysical. and in which reason always participates. in short. 1978) 194). and reject the autonomy of consciousness proposed by idealism because it remains attached to metaphysical or dualist principles in its account of human determinacy. Thornhill / History of European Ideas 31 (2005) 61–84 reason can legitimately claim to disclose truth as a reflected condition which is not founded in the immediate conditions of objective being. Jaspers and Adorno offer a perspective on Kantian idealism which is expressly sympathetic to its residual metaphysical components. 352). Indeed. is the fact that. however. Both still view truth as an occurrence in which reason is profoundly implicated. for Heidegger. What perturbs Heidegger most in Kant’s idealism. and which has an ideal reality against these conditions. that is. Jaspers and Adorno oppose Kantian thinking because they believe that it illegitimately suppresses all metaphysical traces in human thought and experience. 64 This also becomes clear in Jaspers’s posthumously published notes on Heidegger in which he contrasts his own ‘transformation of Western metaphysics’ into a doctrine of ‘ciphers’ with Heidegger’s attempted wholesale ‘overcoming of Western metaphysics’ (Karl Jaspers. and so reduces thought and experience to an empty doctrine of immanence and autonomy. The root origin of the reified consciousness. More important still. ¨ 311–495. 191–195. pp. In other words. the reified consciousness of idealism gives way to a fully temporalized conception of reason. Die Einbildungskraft bei Kant. quasi-transcendent centre of agency against the reality of historical and temporal being (See: Heidegger. Jaspers and Adorno thus criticize idealism and its neo-Kantian offshoots not solely because these provide an ahistorical or formalized account of knowledge—but also because these define the truthful culture of reason as an order of knowledge to which all access to metaphysics is denied. and the idealist claim that particular consciousness is the primary place of cognitive truth is (at least in intention) decisively abandoned. . to remove the last remnants of metaphysics and dualism from Kant’s anthropology and epistemology. both expressly claim. 1930. even (or especially) where this entails a fragmentation of its own inner structure. abstracted from the evolving phenomena of the factual–historical world. the path through the antinomies of Kantianism lies in a conception of freedom which extends and radicalizes the anti-metaphysical moments in Kantian doctrines of autonomy and practical reason. Kant und das Problem der Metaphysik. pp. especially Heidegger. which limits truth to historically obtained knowledge. Although critical of neo-Kantianism to the same extent as Jaspers and Adorno. also Hermann Morchen.64 The overcoming of idealism can. which gives to human subjectivity a juridical priority over its temporal and material foundation. Jahrbuch fu pha ¨r ¨nomenologische Forschung. is that he sees the conception of autonomy evolving from it as covert metaphysics: as a perspective.

16th edition (Tubingen: Niemeyer. . The error of Kantianism. and from the ensuing curtailment of reason’s legitimate horizon. not reconstructed. Adorno. In consequence.65 Instead. p. Nachgelassene Schriften section IV. 66 Adorno describes Heidegger’s ontology as a metaphysics of the reified world. To illuminate this point. Jaspers and Adorno view Kant’s idealism—however paradoxically—as a philosophy which makes thematic the presence of metaphysics. On a more fundamental level.ARTICLE IN PRESS C.66 The way beyond autonomy to freedom lies therefore. Heidegger—for Jaspers and Adorno—is no more successful than Kant in accounting for the full diversity of temporal experience or in imagining knowledge in non-reified form. still upholds a vision of reason which speaks against and counteracts the expressly formalizing and positivizing impulses of idealist epistemology. Thornhill / History of European Ideas 31 (2005) 61–84 75 transcendental-idealist unity of consciousness into a historical unity of consciousness. transcendent ` experience. Notizen zu Martin Heidegger. Once again. and which closes reason in a repetitive cycle of invariable cognitive functions. which stabilizes cognitive validity as a defensive and strictly demarcated realm of positive meaning. as an attempt transcendentally to mark and reflect the limits of worldly truth. a la Heidegger. both still identify in idealism an abiding transcendental attachment to metaphysics. 102). vol. so that it permits reason to become a contentless tautology. for both. Nonetheless. is to recognize that the transcendental block is only superficially a positive act of senseconstitution. both Adorno and Jaspers conclude that idealism can only be superseded if it is correctively interpreted as an intuition of open. p. 67 Jaspers aptly accuses Heidegger of instituting ‘a new positivism’ amidst the debris of idealism (Jaspers. but in a rejection of pure autonomy as the basis of the human. that the formalization of reason in Kant’s idealism is not caused by its metaphysical abstraction from temporal phenomena. p.67 In fact. opens a terrain in which reason might freely think its truth as other than itself alone. Adorno discusses these issues with the greatest clarity in lectures not published during his lifetime. In fact. in shared hostility to Heidegger. (See: Theodor W. perhaps despite itself. Begriff und Probleme. Metaphysik. Jaspers and Adorno are united in indicating. for both. the Kantian reification of consciousness arises from the elimination of metaphysics from reason. Adorno and Jaspers argue ¨ that Heidegger’s ontological temporalization of idealism does not actually solve the problem of the reification of consciousness caused by idealism. Adorno explains. but this diagnosis could equally originate from Jaspers (Adorno. which refuses to renounce all possible metaphysical knowledge. as a doctrine of closed worldly totality. 1986) 388. the key to understanding Kantian epistemology. Sein und Zeit. 14. and which. it merely reifies consciousness once again as a limited objective unity of historical meanings: by replacing the timeless Kantian construct of the human subject with a model of human subjectivity as mere temporality. Negative Dialektik. 19). 34). Indeed. and in a reconsideration of the metaphysical legacy which has been brought temporarily to a halt by idealist reflections on humanity as a legislative condition. Adorno also sees Kant’s epistemology as always both suppressing and reflecting a great despair about the contents which must 65 Heidegger. is that it identifies the truth of reason with reason itself. however. and this. not in an ontological reconfiguration of autonomy as historical immanence. At the same time. Adorno asserts that Kant’s construct of the transcendental subject is intended primarily as a ‘block’ which occludes reason against phenomenal and metaphysical knowledge.

therefore. like Kierkegaard before them. He interprets unconditioned ideas. Jaspers and Adorno. and for more total forms of consciousness. but as lived moments. Adorno detects in Kant’s transcendentalism a remote ‘inspiring force’.69 Even that formal-transcendental ‘immersion in the interior’. p. Each ‘finite form of existence’. Kants Kritik der reinen Vernunft. and he too attempts to refigure the core Kantian concepts of the unconditioned. Psychologie der Weltanschauungen. and all existence feels itself guided by the desire for higher. Kant’s formal subjectivization of knowledge is reason’s last attempt to reflect a totality of knowledge.70 For Adorno. even where it cannot guarantee this totality except in the false categories of subjective unity. Jaspers also suggests that Kant’s theory of the transcendental subject incorporates a potential doctrine of spontaneous experience. 71 ibid p. 171. by which idealism stabilizes knowledge against precarious experiential and metaphysical contents. like Adorno. and it reflects. it narrates the story of reason as it painfully experiences its formal imprisonment and alienation.73 Jaspers thus. of totality. p. 379. self-liberation and transcendent knowledge. . implies to Adorno—however dialectically—a lament on the loss of genuine knowledge. 168. 70 ibid p. and of transcendental ideas. 477. 73 ibid p. Thornhill / History of European Ideas 31 (2005) 61–84 be ‘eliminated from the world’ in order to propose the transcendental subject as the autonomous source of all sense. but as a substantive demand for possible knowledge and experience. he interprets totality. 72 Jaspers. 169. not as the formal boundaries of reason. not as the regulative end of reason. offers a reading of Kant which hears beneath the surface of his transcendental formalism a half-suppressed doctrine of freedom and transcendence. and the quest in idealism to see give to truth a categorical form other than the given conditions of material being still distantly suggests an ‘act of salvation’ towards the metaphysical legacy.ARTICLE IN PRESS 76 C. in fact.74 Most importantly in these debates. and force existence to respond to its most transcendent imperatives. 5. Philosophie III. which dimly seeks to escape the ‘metaphysical night’ of reified reason.68 Indeed. restricted always by the constraints of formal consciousness. Instead. agree that the concept of the transcendental in Kant’s idealism cannot finally obliterate the transcendent cognitive aspirations which it seeks to replace.72 Similarly. he explains. as moments in an experienced trajectory of existential selfchoice. Jaspers also interprets Kant’s terminologies as ciphers for submerged metaphysical ambitions and hopes. at least. 171. ‘lays claim to totality’. Like Adorno. ibid p. which ‘encompass the limit’ of human understanding. p. Adorno 68 69 Adorno. which both enacts the closure of reason against metaphysics and self-critically imagines moments in which the human subject might de-limit or open its relation to metaphysical contents. 74 Jaspers. For these reasons.71 As discussed above. for more reflected. Adorno indicates that Kant’s philosophy is never finally and absolutely about the expulsion of metaphysics. the liberating (and even existential) desire of reason to place itself beyond the bounds of the cognitive totality which it has instituted for itself.

385–386. for Adorno. the ‘metaphysical’ is deeply implicated in the structures of human life.75 Jaspers. Kants Kritik der reinen Vernunft. p. therefore. pp. rejects the formal heteronomy of classical metaphysics. insists that the importance of metaphysics is only manifest as the content of thinking experience. has its precondition in metaphysics. or deferred. and that more truthful contents also exist which cannot be incorporated in these forms. clearly. grounds his entire philosophy in the attempt to reinterpret transcendental ideas as ideas of transcendence. 78 ibid p. 218. withheld.78 The ‘situation of hopeless waiting’.77 For Adorno. and which sees metaphysical imagination as integrally constitutive of genuine human life. which views metaphysics as a way of configuring the possible resistance of human reason to the reified limits imposed on it in modern philosophy and modern social reality. they concur profoundly with each other in their claim that subjective transcendence and non-reified objective understanding are reciprocally constitutive. To this extent. Jaspers and Adorno both reread Kant to find that this freedom. Against Heidegger. and of true humanity itself. 157–158. but as metaphysics of experience. Adorno. Jaspers and Adorno engage with Kantian philosophy precisely to salvage transcendence. whilst Heidegger rereads Kant to locate the space of human freedom. 327. pp. and it articulates the abiding. both belong to a line of philosophy which. Metaphysics and humanism Neither Jaspers nor Adorno declares himself to be in solidarity with metaphysics as a science of positive truths or essences. analogously. which subtly transmute the transcendentally unified form of consciousness in Kant’s idealism into a dialectical or interpretive index of the possible transcendent content of reason and existence. born from a Proustian sense that the truth of experience is always lost. 77 Adorno. . at the final end of metaphysics. which dialectically proclaims the desire of the reasoning subject to transcend and free itself from its selfimposed limits. which are absolutely prior or external to human reflection and experience. not definitively to expel it from human thought. in which all classical dualist conceptions of the ‘indifference’ of the temporal and the metaphysical toward each other have been abandoned. Negative Dialektik. yet ephemeral sense that the cognitive and social forms in which existence is placed are insufficient. Thornhill / History of European Ideas 31 (2005) 61–84 77 argues that the transcendental is always an aporetic concept. However. Both Jaspers and Adorno thus engage with metaphysics not as a science of pure essences. Both Adorno and Jaspers thus set out parallel reconstructions of Kant. like Kant and Heidegger. Metaphysik.ARTICLE IN PRESS C. in which 75 76 Adorno.76 Unlike Heidegger. is always also metaphysical experience. Genuine experience. Adorno. firstly. Consequently. and that thought must endlessly interrogate itself for the truth-contents which it has banished or suppressed through its categorial structure. underlying their philosophical perspectives is an approach. in fact. in distinction from autonomy.

Metaphysik.83 For both Jaspers and Adorno. especially in art. Karl Jaspers. for both. in symbolic forms where human thinking dimly apprehends its transcendence. p. p. M. and he defines metaphysics as a lived knowledge of the unending disjuncture between the thought and the truth of thought.82 Metaphysics. and despairingly anticipates a disclosure of its full meaning. 101. Theodor W. Negative Dialektik. p. occurs in the existential hermeneutic of aesthetic. and in such metaphysics everything which has been ‘achieved by philosophizing is called into question again and again’. then. 353.85 Against this background. As such. construct their philosophical methods for quite similar purposes. 222. as an evanescent experience of transcendence. whose illumination shows up the absolute insufficiency of all given experiences and attitudes. Philosophie I. Jaspers explains. reason can only sustain an interpretation of its truth as a disappearing appearance—not fact—of transcendence. 232.79 In this. Adorno. but. 81 Jaspers. Jaspers also sees metaphysics not as a series of positive categories or essences. negative dialectics is always also an ibid p. 234.80 In close analogy. in which reflexive existence lives through the crisis of its inability to interpret the essence of its founding alterity or transcendence. 1951). in this image. is an ‘uninterpretable destruction’ of reason. can only be deciphered from the experiential fragments of human loss and despair. Negative Dialektik. in which reason confronts figures of its possible transcendence. Metaphysical knowledge. and both see all manifest imagery of transcendence as a corruption of theology and metaphysics (Adorno. it might be claimed that Jaspers and Adorno. thought becomes a hermeneutic of dialectical appearances. the greatest proximity to metaphysical knowledge appears in the ‘uninterpretable cipher’:81 that is. 82 ibid p. 85 Both Jaspers and Adorno therefore emphasize their sympathy with the prohibition of the image in metaphysical and theological discourse. In such metaphysics. pp. or negative dialectics. for all the manifest hostility between them. 84 Adorno.84 This appearance. As metaphysics. for the transcendent knowledge which these might contain. thus. 201. Adorno gives new articulation to the Kierkegaardian motif of inward metaphysical despair. Adorno develops his dialectics. is only possible as an experience of foundering (Scheitern). 224. in order to intimate the possible truth of human consciousness as the fragmentation of the epistemological limits of reason. Der philosophische Glaube angesichts der Offenbarung (Munich: Piper 1962) 196). is thus the shape in which ‘metaphysical experience is strongest’. In fact. 83 ibid p. in Kierkegaardian manner. however.: Suhrkamp. but can obtain no manifest content or positive hold for this apprehension. 207. and experiences the profound failure of its attempts to account for its own primary essence and meaning. symbolized in ciphers. philosophical and religious symbols. 232. the space of metaphysics dissolves into a cipher-like dialectical image of authentic experience. Closeness to metaphysical knowledge. or ciphers. Thornhill / History of European Ideas 31 (2005) 61–84 human thought feels its truth as interminably obscured from it. Reflexionen aus dem bescha ¨digten Leben (Frankfurt a.ARTICLE IN PRESS 78 C. which desperately interprets elements of experience. Adorno. Minima Moralia. the trace of the thought’s truth can only appear as a cipher of its absence. p. 80 79 .

negative dialectics. 195. moreover. p. suspending both dialectical and epistemological truth-claims. As for Adorno. In his excellent.ARTICLE IN PRESS C. not as mere variables in the syntheses of reason’ (Negative Dialektik. 89 Adorno states: ‘Metaphysics alone allows the possibility of thinking about and being towards other people and other things as other people and other things. but quite badly neglected book.86 In this light. 398). Festschrift fu Wilhelm Weischedel zum 70. human existence experiences and communicates itself as an infinitely unstable relation towards its own cognitive properties. Adorno. Geburtstag (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft.: Suhrkamp. 1. but he also claims that Adorno’s work is primarily ‘centred in a metacritique of Kant’s critique of reason’ (p. I am not alone in interpreting Adorno as a hermeneutician. then. M. p. 1976) 7–26. Hegels Aufhebung des ¨ metaphysischen Wahrheitsbegriffes’. therefore. Eine Philosophie der dritten Reflektiertheit. reason interprets both the dis-unity of its form and the alterity of its contents.: Athenaum. 224. p. which shows that the truth of reason can on no account be reduced to its this-worldly self-reproduction. ‘Begriff und Realitat. which sees the truth of reflection as a fleeting interpretive freedom in which contents of consciousness.87 which interprets the true contents of experience as always transcending and subverting the identity-forming categories imposed on them. suggests that truthful interpretation has a transformative impact on the self-experience of the interpreter: reason which reflects its contents as the fragmentation of its form must also inevitably begin to exist towards itself and its contents in a manner which is not oriented towards regulation or exploitation. See: Adorno. his dialectical thinking always contains a strong experiential moment. Frankfurt a. ¨r 1975) 164–195. the content of truth is only accessible for the form of consciousness if this form recognizes its own 86 On these questions.90 In some respects. 239).89 Thus. might be interpreted as a negative hermeneutics. 87 Although here I argue against the grain of most Adorno scholarship. Denken im Schatten des Nihilismus. This hermeneutic. 41. Thornhill / History of European Ideas 31 (2005) 61–84 79 immanent metaphysics. Jaspers’s existential hermeneutics form a direct analogue to Adorno’s dialectics. Jaspers also sees truthful reflection as a process in which consciousness is brought to crisis by its metaphysical confrontation with objects and experiences outside its structure. . Ulrich Muller also describes ¨ Adorno as a ‘critical hermeneutician’ (Ulrich Muller. see: Michael Theunissen. in which human reason only interprets its truth by symbolically reflecting the ways in which truth is withheld. Erkenntniskritik und Negative Metaphysik bei ¨ Adorno. 90 Adorno avails himself of clearly Existentialist terminology when talking of metaphysical experience. 1988). 19. Metaphysik. M. 8) and he emphasizes the status of ‘negative metaphysics’ in Adorno’s reaction against Kant (p. Jaspers also develops his theory of truth as a negative hermeneutics. which is not finally or decisively at odds with Existential thinking.88 In Adorno’s dialectical hermeneutics. 91 Jaspers. Prismen: Kulturkritik und Gesellschaft (Frankfurt a. although Adorno is surely not in any eminent way an Existential philosopher. Through this crisis. Vernunft und Existenz. appear as indices of the subject’s own possible otherness to itself. normally obscured by its limits. 88 Theodor W. in: Alexander Schwan (ed). Muller does not ¨ ¨ expressly mention Jaspers. in fact.91 In consequence. His dialectics might in fact plausibly be viewed as a quasi-hermeneutical theory of knowledge. and both subject and object render unstable the synthetic categories in which they commonly appear. ‘Kulturkritik und Gesellschaft’.

Thornhill / History of European Ideas 31 (2005) 61–84 critical inadequacy for truth. 70. and he expresses a measured sympathy for Kierkegaard’s work.94 The fact that these similarities exist should. and so allows itself to be fractured and transformed by its attempt to think this truth. is the truth of humanity. One of these comes in a very late. in: Dieter Henrich and Rolf-Peter Horstmann (eds). which gives rise to communication. to its obtained unity. Jaspers. Adorno’s willingness to rehabilitate Kierkegaard provides an opening for some kind of dialogue with Jaspers. as a philosophy ‘which always knew itself to be counter-posed to the equation of metaphysics with a doctrine of the ahistorically unchangeable’ (Adorno. naturally. Metaphysics can offer freedom only where it negates humanity in its cognitive and worldly forms. Both consequently intimate that his limitation of human authenticity to interiority only explains existence in formally closed categories—as an illusory ‘private sphere’ (Adorno) or as ‘the complete renunciation of the world’ (Jaspers). The relation to truth. p. thus. Metaphysik nach Kant? Stuttgarter Hegel-KongreX 1987 (Stuttgart: Klett. or only through the self-negating self-interpretation of both humanity and metaphysics. p. although occasionally in his postwar works he intimates a passing sympathy for some aspects of the theory of the dialectic of Enlightenment (Vom Ursprung und Ziel der Geschichte. However. and very short piece on Kierkegaard. this may have some relevance for Jaspers. in short. whose philosophy is certainly less inclined to hypostatic conceptions of the conditions of human being than that of Kierkegaard. in which reason distantly deciphers the transcendence of its true contents. Metaphysics. cipherinterpretation and the interpretive fragmentation of reason. and where. 93 On the relation between metaphysics and humanism in Adorno’s thought. but it can only be this truth as a dialectical truth. by interpreting the Kierkegaardian motif of metaphysical despair as a hermeneutical impulse. The liberating contents of metaphysics. where it negates itself as a prior order of being. 94 Both Adorno and Jaspers claim that Kierkegaard fails in his endeavour to account for the truth of human existence outside the formal structures of idealism. 95 Neither Adorno nor Jaspers pronounce extensively on the metaphysical implications of the other’s work. The post-Kierkegaardian idea of a hermeneutics of disjuncture and despair is clearly intended for the fleeting capture and interpretation of the dialectical contents of such metaphysics. Kierkegaard. both interpretive methods which are informed by a conception of negative metaphysics.93 However. 228). they also argue against classical dualist metaphysics and against idealist reconstructions of metaphysical elements as positive properties of reason. p. Adorno’s negative dialectics and Jaspers’s negative hermeneutics are. In Adorno’s oeuvre. see: Jeanne Hersch. (See Adorno. therefore. 15). In view of the widespread association of Jaspers with Kierkegaard. both Adorno and Jaspers view metaphysics as a precondition of human truth and human freedom. Jaspers very rarely even acknowledges the presence of Adorno. 1988) 323–329. both assert. In this short note Adorno revises his earlier rather relentless critique of Kierkegaard. not be taken to imply that Adorno and Jaspers have identical views in their claims about metaphysics. 73. originally published in 1933. and of itself. ‘Trennung von Metaphysik und Ontologie bei Karl Jaspers’. even if this is not the case. . see again: Alfred Schmidt. in consequence. 261). there are a couple of points where he expresses a view on Jaspers’s metaphysics. is always a relation of negative interpretation and negative self-interpretation. p. p. ‘Adorno—ein Philosoph des realen Humanismus’. Vernunft und Existenz. both Jaspers and Adorno are clearly engaged in a salvaging re-reading of Kierkegaard.92 As discussed. in fact.ARTICLE IN PRESS 80 C. can only be construed dialectically. Kierkegaard.95 There 92 For the relevance of this term to Jaspers. it allows itself to be critically and transformatively experienced as other than pure metaphysics. in the afterword to the new edition (1962) of Adorno’s earliest book on Kierkegaard.

96 Adorno. p. which gives individual existence a clear primacy over objects of reflection. always ‘converge in humanity’. 97 96 . p. 41.97 In this respect. 90. yet dialectical humanity. p. 73. Adorno. 99 Jaspers. 98 Adorno. in his one direct observation on Jaspers’s metaphysics he accuses Jaspers of promoting a subjectivist ‘regression’ of metaphysics which reinaugurates metaphysics as an ideal order of consciousness. Indeed. Adorno. The contrast does therefore not have the force which it might otherwise possess. for Kant. Vernunft und Existenz. and Jaspers. Negative Dialektik. however. ‘Existenziale Platondeutung’. certain fundamental distinctions between them in these debates. Kritik der reinen Vernunft. Mit einem Brief u ¨ber den Humanismus (Bern: Francke. 441–489. Jaspers and Adorno are very close to each other in the humanization of metaphysics which they propose. pp. it might be noted that Jaspers is a very unusual Platonist. and Heidegger all attempt either to transform metaphysics into the foundations of a human reality. For Adorno and Jaspers. to be sure. the Platonist. however. Adorno must necessarily view Jaspers. 242. On this. is quite clear that the human does not yet exist as the human. Humanity. or has pressed itself. Kant und das Problem der Metaphysik. like Heidegger. Negative Dialektik.98 Equally importantly. Jargon der Eigentlichkeit.99 in direct opposition to Heidegger’s authoritarian-functionalist brand of Aristotelianism. who expressly views ideas as lived moments of experience. is therefore decisively after metaphysics. for it provides at least an imaginary vocabulary in which human reason can experience itself as other than the formed reality into which it is pressed. the neo-Kantians. In this contrast between Adorno. 103 Adorno. Jaspers identifies the deepest meaning of metaphysics in its articulation of a logic of subjective experience. the neo-Kantians and Heidegger. Platons Lehre von der Wahrheit. in contrast. not pure essences.101 or entirely to exclude metaphysical elements from the scope of human knowledge. p. 102 ¨ Martin Heidegger. 101 Kant. ‘Uber den Humanismus’. metaphysics possesses a profound. p. and in their views on the possible intersection of metaphysics and human freedom. 703. sees the significance of metaphysics in its insistence that the absolute objects of reflection are outside the limits of identity-thinking and disclose to reason the existence of contents which are not identical with itself. For instance. likewise. in his reconception of metaphysics Jaspers implicitly places himself in a Platonist line of thinking. he asserts. 100 Adorno. 397.100 Despite these distinctions. Kant-Studien (1961–1962) 53. p. but is interpretable only as metaphysical. the Aristotelian. on the other hand. rather perversely asserts that Aristotle’s philosophy is the first true metaphysics. see: Ottomar Wichmann. Thornhill / History of European Ideas 31 (2005) 61–84 81 are also. pp. as the philosopher who originally thematizes and seeks to overcome the metaphysical breach between truth and reality. Heidegger. 61. therefore.’ Adorno concludes. and that Adorno is a rather unconvincing Aristotelian. 1947) 76–77. who attempts to extract from Aristotle a critical dualism and a doctrine of radical autonomy.102 The place of the authentically human. and the freedom of the human is always a condition of practical autonomy which evolves at the end of all metaphysical determinacy and heteronomy. 43. Psychologie der Weltanschauungen. Metaphysik. As discussed. ‘Subjectively liberated experience and metaphysical experience. Kant. 60.ARTICLE IN PRESS C. as a covert idealist. p. and he claims Aristotle as his own forebear. cannot be viewed as the property of an ‘isolated I’ or as residing in Jaspers.103 Jaspers.

the critique of metaphysics is articulated as a critique of heteronomy. after metaphysics. however. include metaphysics. Each position in this line of anti-metaphysical reflection is sustained by a this-worldly unity of consciousness.106 These agreements about metaphysics also have implications for how we interpret the political rivalry between Adorno and Jaspers.104 For both. however dialectically. in which human reason (either ideal or historical) assumes as its own the unity of causality and validity originally possessed. 106 Adorno directly claims that Heidegger’s intended abolition of metaphysics serves to further the cause of worldly heteronomy (see: Adorno. over which particular life has no control (See: Chris Thornhill. outside humanity. From Kant to Heidegger. and its ethical derivatives. Conclusion: the politics of metaphysics A far-reaching claim can be made regarding the philosophical perspectives of Adorno and Jaspers on the legacy of metaphysics. moral and political meaning. Jaspers was a strong (though temporary) supporter of Adenauer.ARTICLE IN PRESS 82 C. Negative Dialektik. Karl Jaspers. Apart from Adorno’s tersely dismissive philosophical attitude to Jaspers. Jaspers and Adorno both intimate that the sphere of true human accountability and authenticity is not thinkable without metaphysics: the overcoming of pure-metaphysical heteronomy must therefore. therefore. it is a condition of communication. the attempt to configure the human as a sphere of fully formed and unitary agency. but in the difference of metaphysics from all that the human being already is. the sense of antipathy between them is very closely linked to the different roles which they played in the early years of the Federal Republic of Germany. Adorno. Adorno famously Jaspers. At this time. through which reason accounts for itself as a specific realm of self-legislating and self-interpreting order and validity. p. Philosophie II. 49. 398. by metaphysics. and selfinterpretation on the ground of metaphysical ideas. moral and political freedoms. as exemplified by Kant and Heidegger. p. Negative Dialektik. can only ever—Jaspers and Adorno indicate— result in the reproduction of heteronomy.105 Attempts to envision human freedom in categories which are absolutely independent of metaphysics have succeeded only. In marked antithesis to these perspectives. either in ideal or objective order. During the same period. 105 104 . Thornhill / History of European Ideas 31 (2005) 61–84 ‘empirical factuality’: instead. Politics and Metaphysics. in conferring a hypostatic form on human freedom. (London: Routledge. 69). as discussed. but he too clearly indicates that Heidegger’s temporalization of human reason. and each position in this lineage seeks to mark out the human as an arena of cognitive. This claim is less explicit in Jaspers’s thought. 2002) 116–118). p. leaves human existence centred on historical systems of authority and adherence. and this has invariably destroyed precisely that humanity and that freedom which they wish to delineate. and he saw the restored economic system of liberal capitalism as the most effective socio-economic bastion against totalitarian planning and governance. the place of the human is not after metaphysics. freedom. and in the oppressively immanent reification of reason against its own possible cognitive. In fact.

and the modes of economic production and social production resulting from these. Above all. for Adorno. it would be a condition in which the content and idea of freedom would be derived from reason’s experiential and transcendent confrontation of the limits of its taxonomic and instrumental forms. and he is notoriously reticent in making pronouncements about the actual institutional forms of government which he might accept as possessing legitimacy. the interpersonal conditions constituting a social order approaching legitimacy would require metaphysics.107 This ethic suspends all demands for 107 Karl Jaspers. and they projected sharply antagonistic visions of its future. and in which a maximum of existing plurality and difference between human beings would be accepted and legitimized. it should be emphasized here that. are permanent or necessary. 1953) 70. practically if not theoretically. The vision set out by Jaspers was the one which. Obviously. Adorno’s idea of the non-instrumental society is strikingly similar to that which informs Jaspers’s own political stance. truly human—politics by considering the implications of his critical reading of Kantian idealism and neoKantianism. At the core of this vision is the sense that existential reason. Thornhill / History of European Ideas 31 (2005) 61–84 83 initiated a resurgence of neo-Marxist political economy and cultural critique in the Federal Republic. This critique extended the analyses of totalitarianism pioneered by the Institute of Social Research in the 1930s and 1940s to the conditions of the Federal Republic and it insisted that the cognitive and economic factors which had led to totalitarianism under Hitler were still very much in force. has its concrete corollary in a political ethic of plurality. Adorno is not in any eminent way a political theorist. Broadly reconstructed on this basis. it would be a condition in which the legal structures connecting human beings would be freed from dominatory or proprietorial orientations. . and there can be little consensus between them on the sociological or economic aspects of their political ideas and ideals. The political presence of metaphysics would place a veto on all assumptions that the existing forms of human consciousness. Jaspers and Adorno thus interpreted the origins of the new Republic in sharply opposed perspectives. Reconstructed in these terms. was ultimately to prevail. tolerance and communicative freedom. it would be rather fatuous to paper over the differences between Adorno and Jaspers on these points. Indeed. for Adorno.ARTICLE IN PRESS C. for Adorno. a legitimate socio-political condition would. which agonistically elucidates the metaphysical idea of freedom. then. it would be a condition in which the horizons of human freedom would be constantly deferred and postponed. It is only in metaphysics. Einfu ¨hrung in die Philosophie (Munich: Piper. it is arguable that we gain the clearest possible insight into Adorno’s model of legitimate—or. It would be a condition in which human interaction would not be bound by the definition of human beings as formally autonomous legal subjects. as considered above. that reason can gain consciousness of the fact that the course of the world is not absolutely closed. self-interpreting on the ground of disappearing metaphysical contents. Between the lines of Jaspers’s post-1945 political thought there also appears a dream of a society based in a constant experience of personal and cognitive self-transformation. and that other possibilities might intrude on the reality of domination which people presently inhabit. for all his impact on political reflection. correspond approximately to the following model. However.

Their own writings are directly bound. across all party-political divides between them. and it sees the truth of reason only in its communicative difference from what it already is. originates in the Enlightenment and culminates in the works of Martin Heidegger. and which will not be insistent on the eradication of all transcendent elements from human thought. nor dogma’. like Adorno. Jaspers explains.108 Indeed. Most importantly. in a catastrophic misreading of the metaphysical legacy. these two contrasting political visions of the earliest years of the Federal Republic of Germany have much in common. This anti-metaphysical tendency. p. 108 109 Jaspers. both intimate that the triumph of totalitarianism in the 1930s and 1940s was rooted. 110.ARTICLE IN PRESS 84 C. Psychologie der Weltanschauungen. which will not confuse political legitimacy with practical or historical self-regulation. for Jaspers. Beyond the complex metaphysical and epistemological dialogues between Adorno and Jaspers. Jaspers views metaphysics as a ‘suspension of absolute possibility’. can never ‘become authority. therefore. Thornhill / History of European Ideas 31 (2005) 61–84 dogmatic unity and identity. by their great hostility to the philosophy of pure immanence. but remain ‘reliant on communication between people’ for their truth to be disclosed. and can never give stable foundations to political order. . ethics and politics. it rejects the assumption that reason can autonomously legislate the objective conditions of social freedom. p. and the metaphysical ideas of freedom which appear in this deferral provide the sole orientation for good politics. Der philosophische Glaube angesichts der Offenbarung. 137. that a Republic guaranteeing conditions of genuine human freedom will be one which will assume a different attitude to the metaphysical legacy. and then falsely placed the autonomous rational or historical human being at the legislative centre of this reality. Jaspers. therefore. the only foundation of authentic human society. Jaspers and Adorno both conclude. This misreading falsely constructed the world as an entirely immanent reality.109 and so places a categorical prohibition on all absoluteness of worldly truth-claims. both suggest. philosophically. Truthfully engaged communicative deferral is therefore. which insists that all worldly or cognitive forms are temporary and limited. Metaphysical contents. most especially in its Heideggerian expression.

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