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History of European Ideas 31 (2005) 61–84 www.elsevier.com/locate/histeuroideas
Karl Jaspers and Theodor W. Adorno: the metaphysics of the human
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: email@example.com (C. Thornhill). 0191-6599/$ - see front matter r 2004 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. doi:10.1016/j.histeuroideas.2004.09.002
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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.
2 and he was consequently reviled on the left as an implicit fellow-traveller of the far right. absurd Protestant motif of faith. 244. Thornhill / History of European Ideas 31 (2005) 61–84 63 academic establishment. . M. rooted in the subject’. Zur deutschen Ideologie (Frankfurt a. both Kierkegaard and Jaspers eliminate the socially mediated component of selfexperience. By imagining true experience only as the despairing inner reactions of a static human subject. they stabilize a vain and self-dramatizing image of authentic experience. 1999) 46. 3 Theodor W. Konstruktion des Asthetischen (Frankfurt a. In his later readings of Kierkegaard. his comments in Jargon of Authenticity underline his broad rejection of Existentialism. and he clearly did not take him entirely seriously. and ideologically burdened. the Western Alliance. Die geistige Situation der Zeit. Adorno. 1962) 49. for example. 5 ibid p. they remain ensnared in the cognitive antinomies of subjective idealism which they seek to correct. In his early writings on Kierkegaard. his objections in 2 This is most evident in his lament on the lack of true leadership in modern welfare-democracies. Jaspers’s work at times moved alarmingly close to widespread patterns of revolutionary conservatism and radical anti-parliamentarism. 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). at two decisive junctures in twentieth-century history Jaspers was the speciﬁc object of bitter critique amongst representatives of the leftleaning German intelligentsia. Adorno associated Kierkegaard and Jaspers so closely that his view on Jaspers can often be deciphered between the lines of his interpretations of Kierkegaard. which ultimately falls behind the emancipatory universalism of Kant himself. but he did not write very extensively about Jaspers. Adorno clearly distinguishes between Kierkegaard and the interpretations of his work proposed by Jaspers and Heidegger. 9th edition (Berlin: de Gruyter.5 However. During the death-throes of the Weimar democracy after 1930. attempt to develop a doctrine of objective experience in order to overcome the formal subjectivism of Kantian idealism.: Suhrkamp. now grandly stylized as a ‘pathos of existence’. See: Karl Jaspers. by viewing integral experiences as the property of privileged and authentic individuals. and especially of the Kierkegaardian emphasis on inner life as the location of personal authenticity. he argues that Kierkegaard’s Existential theory of experience is a failed. However. M.3 Throughout his intellectual trajectory. 1964) 27.4 in fact.: Suhrkamp. which assumed particular centrality in Jaspers’s version of Existential thinking. This political resentment is clearly reﬂected in Adorno’s attitude to Jaspers. As a result. Adorno asserts that Jaspers’s Existentialism offers nothing more than an outmoded reincarnation of Kierkegaardian ideas—especially of the ‘old. After 1949. Adorno. similarly. in fact. Jargon der Eigentlichkeit. In this work. 4 ¨ Theodor W. Adorno explains.ARTICLE IN PRESS C. Adorno wrote long invectives against Heidegger. and for elite-democratic governance by Kanzlerprinzip—meant that Jaspers was also widely perceived on the left as a passive apologist for political restoration. Kierkegaard. his enthusiasm for certain hallmark policies of the early Adenauer period—especially for the social-market economy.
Erbschaft dieser Zeit (Zurich: Oprecht. 1955) 456. in deﬁning human authenticity as an invariable interior substrate of all human life. he obviously sympathizes ´ with these extreme diagnoses. in their totality. 1971) 52–75. for Adorno. Adorno sees the doctrine of humanism contained in Jaspers’s Existentialism as an entirely ideological outlook which. These strategies.7 Adorno does not quite reach the same levels of invective ´ as Lukacs. and they ﬁnd their contemporary apotheosis in the techniques of exchange.: ¨ Suhrkamp. 7 Adorno. The central claim of Adorno’s philosophy. like other left-leaning critics. by strategies of instrumental–rational control through which reason dominates the contents of thought. like that of ´ Ernst Bloch and Georg Lukacs. 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. Jargon der Eigentlichkeit. drawing on aspects of Nietzschean vitalism. have their anthropological source in the original human anxiety in face of nature. ‘Adorno—ein Philosoph des realen Humanismus’. and directly obstructs the realization of a genuinely valid humanism. Eine Sammlung Hermann Schweppenhauser Ed. Freudian social psychology and Marxist political economy. which revolves around a pathos-ﬁlled. 6 . 9 On Adorno’s humanism.9 Shared antipathies Beyond biographical considerations. Adorno’s animosity toward Jaspers is directly founded in the distinctions between their philosophical projects. 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. (Frankfurt a. 108. see: Alfred Schmidt. Existentialismus oder ¨ Marxismus? (Berlin: Aufbau-Verlag 1951) 48–49. M. pseudo-heroic model of the suffering subject. 10 Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno. views his philosophy as monotonous subjectivism. regimentation and exploitation which support advanced capitalism.8 Nonetheless. therefore.ARTICLE IN PRESS 64 C. pp.10 and in the resultant desire to dominate nature. is that the conditions of social existence in contemporary society are characterized. M. Adorno zum Geda ¨chtnis. Adorno gives a description of Jaspers which.11 Adorno’s philosophical method is consequently based in the conviction that modern reason denies itself the possibility ´ Ernst Bloch. and which is prepared to endorse an outward ethic of extreme political relativity and acquiescence.: Fischer. Generally.6 Above all. hinders reﬂection on the social and material conditions required to permit authentic human subjectivity. 8 ´ Georg Lukacs. 1935) 222. 56. 11 ibid p. Dialektik der Aufkla ¨rung: Philosophische Fragmente (Frankfurt a. Theodor W. and so forfeits the possibility of truthful objective experience. and in the political implications of these projects. 1969) 12. Georg Lukacs. who argues that Jaspers is motivated by a ‘deadly hatred of the masses’ and by a ‘fear of democracy and socialism’. 55–56. Die Zersto ¨rung der Vernunft (Berlin: Luchterhand. 43.
1991) 48–49. but they are not genetically connected with the capitalist system of material organization. In fact.ARTICLE IN PRESS C. and so freely relate itself. 18 Karl Jaspers. I: Philosophische Weltorientierung (Munich: Piper. 150. 1966) 259. Von der Wahrheit (Munich: Piper. 16 Karl Jaspers. which explains how particular ¨ mental forms provide defence against the alarming possibilities of existence. 15 This is the underlying sense of Jaspers’s theory of ‘Gehause’ (cages). Philosophie.17 Unlike Adorno. are certainly suppressed by the technical order of being in modern society. ceaselessly deploy techniques of subterfuge and self-protection in order to obviate their confrontation with their innermost possibilities. as mentioned above. 49. Theodor W. and it construes ibid p. M.: Suhrkamp. Vernunft und Existenz. Negative Dialektik (Frankfurt a. His Existentialism is in fact designed to show how human consciousness might elucidate the possibilities of liberty and integrity which it always incorporates. and of the processes of economic production and social organization which result from it. 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. Jaspers sees authentic reason and authentic existence as originary resources of individual subjectivity: he deﬁnes integral human subjectivity as an invariable quality. in which all subjective and objective relations of domination are overcome. to the transcendent and original conditions of its being. and he argues that human subjectivity requires a critical labour of self-overcoming to disclose its structure as fundamentally other than a technical. there is no region of subjective life which is not intertwined with the system of economic coercion. it tends towards an endorsement of liberal–republican politics and liberal–capitalist economics. utilitarian and end-oriented reason constantly obscure the capacities of human being for truthful cognitive experience. 13 12 .15 and the socially pervasive types of scientiﬁc. Reason and existence. Ma 1935 (Groningen: ¨nf ¨rz Wolter. 1985) 282–283. 1935) 73–74. vol. 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. and human freedom cannot be imagined without a fundamental transformation of reason. above all. purposive or instrumental order.16 Jaspers also asserts that reason habitually closes itself against its most genuine contents. bis 29. Psychologie der Weltanschauungen (Munich: Piper. 17 Karl Jaspers. he claims. In consequence. 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.18 Authentic existence and truthful thinking. See: Karl Jaspers. he explains. 14 ibid p.14 Like Adorno. beyond its established cognitive and objective limits. Jaspers’s philosophy is therefore relatively unconcerned by economic or sociological questions. and can always be made present through engaged acts of communication and passionate self-choice. which cannot be explicated in socio-economic categories. Jaspers also proceeds from the belief that human reason and subjectivity are profoundly distorted and impoverished under contemporary social conditions. however. 1994) 4.12 For Adorno. Fu Vorlesungen gehalten vom 25.13 Negative-dialectical thinking is thus always an attempt to reﬂect a condition of cognitive freedom. Adorno.
and. because of this. which vainly ‘confuses itself with substantial reality’. Existenzphilosophie. 49. p. vol 4 edited by Rolf Tiedemann (Frankfurt a. M.ARTICLE IN PRESS 66 C. 41. the underlying philosophical intentions of their work are at times closely related. Vom Ursprung und Ziel der Geschichte (Frankfurt a.23 and true reason is always in solidarity with whatever ‘breaks down’ the structure of its own formality. p. Freedom and Karl Jaspers’s Philosophy (New Haven/London: Yale University Press. so that reason might incorporate elements of subjective and objective experience.’ he argues. See: Theodor W. 23 ibid. as philosophers who see the technical formality of reason as a profound problem for existence. both imply that the truth of reason lies in the possibility that it might also be other than mere reason. p. has reduced human subjectivity to a sequence of regulatory functions which extirpate all vital content from reason. amongst all existing types of economic administration. in: Nachgelassene Schriften section IV. 26 Jaspers. and which leaves the greatest liberty for free cultural and ethical interaction between reasonable human beings. renouncing the classiﬁcatory and formalizing processes which underscore its operations.’22 The ‘truly rational’ being is therefore one who is open to ‘unreason’. M. 41. Jaspers argues that authentic personal existence depends upon a reconﬁguration of reason.21 ‘Reason and existence. 21 Very good on the relation of reason to experience in Jaspers is Elisabeth Young-Bruehl. Adorno argues that the precondition of truthful social existence lies in a reconception of reason. even this most summary comparison of Jaspers and Adorno reveals that. p. Thornhill / History of European Ideas 31 (2005) 61–84 capitalism. ‘is a lie’. as the economic order which is least likely to lead to totalitarianism. p. p. Most especially.: Fischer. 38. This becomes clear in Adorno’s recently published lectures on Kant. which would challenge and transﬁgure its conceptual structure. which strips itself of all objective experience in order to Karl Jaspers. the human subject has been reduced to the empty shell of an ‘eternally recurrent I think. and that it might allow for modes of cognitive experience. 32. Adorno. Each of them is lost without the other. 24 Jaspers. esp. 1981). For all their disagreement about the socio-economic determinacy of the human subject.24 Reason as a pure ‘origin of order’ is thus invalid.’27 The subject in its existing rational form. 20 19 . Kants Kritik der reinen Vernunft. 27 Horkheimer and Adorno. 1995). Vernunft und Existenz.: Suhrkamp.25 and reason which is not impelled by experience can only ever be a spurious ‘transparency’. and allow itself to be confronted and restructured by these. Dialektik der Aufkla ¨rung. Adorno concludes.19 However. Jaspers and Adorno might—in certain respects—be placed close together. Modern rationality. 1955) 173.20 At the heart of both philosophies. he explains. 49. 34. Both centre their philosophies on the conviction that human reason in its current forms is limited or blocked against true knowledge. beyond the political–economic distinctions in their approaches. and so locate itself in more adequate ways towards its own truth and towards the truth of its contents. Reason has thus become a repetitive process of categorial selfassertion. p. ‘are inseparable. 25 ibid. p.26 In similar voice. Vernunft und Existenz. is an attempt to explain how reason might overcome the formal limitations commonly imposed upon it. consequently. 22 Jaspers. likewise. 85.
29 Underlying these points of ﬂeeting contiguity between Adorno and Jaspers is the fact that both share certain critical perspectives on the idealist tradition. 274. and Hermann Cohen. which dominated German academic philosophy in the ﬁrst decades of the twentieth century. 304). experiential and metaphysical—which question the validity of its synthetic form. both cognitive and ethical. p. arising from the subject’s own desire ‘to extract itself from the lie’. 31 Jaspers also laments the ‘narrowing’ of reason in Kantian epistemology. Negative Dialektik. Negative Dialektik. p. Modern reason. Adorno ascribes reason’s self-curtailment to an original human terror of naturalness (Horkheimer and Adorno. 29 28 . p. and both argue that Adorno. p.30 Both suggest moreover that the formal and self-limiting characteristics of modern reason are given clearest expression in Kantian idealism. Psychologie der Weltanschauungen. both Jaspers and Adorno suggest that the formal restriction of reason arises from primary anthropological anxieties. 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. 32 Adorno. concentrated in the philosophies of the Marburg School and the South West German School. 30 Indeed. only by imposing highly self-protective limits and schemes of regularity on its operations. The basic claim in neo-Kantianism is that Kant’s philosophy should be construed primarily as a doctrine of practical autonomy. Dialektik der Aufkla ¨rung. 274.’28 The true subject can only be imagined as a ‘possibility’. both claim that in post-Enlightenment epistemology the means by which reason establishes its validity are fallacious. Primarily. both explain. Thornhill / History of European Ideas 31 (2005) 61–84 67 uphold ‘the unconditionality of its own domination.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. both argue. the scope of reason is hollowed out to a function of formal self-reﬂection and regulation. 9). 1957) 606). the self-limiting of reason in the name of formal certainty results from an original existential fear of conceptual instability and transcendence (Jaspers. for Jaspers. justiﬁes its insights. emphasize the primacy of practical reason in their interpretations of Kant. Both Heinrich Rickert. and that Kantian accounts of reason have particular responsibility for the malaise in modern rational existence. and so by generating meaning on purely formal foundations. 377. of the South West German School. of the Marburg School. and thought proscribes all contents—phenomenal. and purchases its synthetic integrity only through the suppression of the most genuine impulses of thought.ARTICLE IN PRESS C. Die groX en Philosophen (Munich: Piper. Ibid p.31 Both thus perceive Kantian philosophy as a cognitive system which chronically depreciates both existence and reason. In the Kantian line of idealist philosophy. and he bemoans the ‘only occasional identiﬁcation’ of the personal and the universal in Kant’s ethics (Karl Jaspers. and on foundational philosophy in general. which it itself is.
ed.ARTICLE IN PRESS 68 C. See for example Heinrich Rickert. At the centre of the Kantian universe.34 Cohen. material or pure-metaphysical principles and forces. is always formally other than being itself. 37 ibid p. zweiter Theil: Ethik des reinen Willens (Berlin: Bruno Cassirer. 506.B. and so concentrate knowledge on the narrowly intelligible region over which it can exercise jurisdiction. 1904) 309. ¨ 34 Hermann Cohen. 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. 1966). Der Gegenstand der Erkenntnis. 679. Mohr. although always circumspect on this point. however. Kant argues. he explains. repeatedly intimates that practical reason should be accorded a certain primacy over pure reason. which independently legislates the preconditions of valid knowledge and valid action. It is not difﬁcult to see how the exponents of neo-Kantianism should arrive at this legal-humanist reading of Kant. is an ethically and cognitively self-legislating transcendental subject which constitutes for itself the conditions and the limits of obtainable knowledge. 6 vols. is a legal humanism. can only ever be a transcendental ‘illusion’. 1928) 437. 401–402. in: Werke. values or laws. for independently deducing the limits and conditions of ethical integrity. Furthermore. Wilhelm Weischedel. these categories then provide a matrix within which the subject can autonomously order its insights and syntheses. 35 Immanuel Kant.33 At the heart of neo-Kantianism is thus an analysis of reason as a practical– juridical function. determination by natural. 33 . Such knowledge also excludes all metaphysical and experiential contents from the realm of what is knowable. asserts that the problem of the legal subject is the primary focus of philosophy after Kant. therefore. liberated from all natural or metaphysical determinacy. most particularly. 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. Einfu ¨hrung in die Transzendentalphilosophie 6te Auﬂage (Tubingen: J. which sees the condition of legislative autonomy. Thornhill / History of European Ideas 31 (2005) 61–84 even the purely cognitive operations of reason are regulated by practical norms. Underlying the ethical and cognitive ideas of the Marburg School.C. 36 ibid pp. Kant argues that the validity of human cognition is the corollary of the ‘legislatory’ functions of the human subject. II. and its substantial or phenomenal content is only a variable in the categories by which reason legislates its realm of application. 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. Kant himself. therefore. (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft. and so frees human existence from all traces of that ancient ‘pathology’ which is heteronomy: i. In his theory of pure reason.35 and that the highest function of humanity is its capacity for autonomy: that is. vol. as it applies categories to objective phenomena. This region of knowledge. System der Philosophie.e.37 Autonomously secured knowledge. as the practical fulﬁlment of the most profound and constitutive potentials of human life.36 The subject obtains reliable knowledge. Kritik der reinen Vernunft. p.
e. 331.39 and they serve only to give ideal order and coherence to reason’s transcendental jurisdiction. ibid p. W. 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. The outermost metaphysical or transcendental limits of knowledge. which provides pre-stabilized synthetic categories for the interpretation and ordering of phenomena. and constitutes its own cognitive and moral autonomy and unity by prescribing legislative edicts to itself. 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 practically to engender categorical principles for the validation of human ethical behaviour. 40 Martin Heidegger. and against the transcendent questions of metaphysics. As discussed. Thornhill / History of European Ideas 31 (2005) 61–84 69 At the core of Kant’s formal-illusory concept of truth. and it is the duty of this subject to determine the extent of possible knowledge. imposes controls on the questions which can be posed by human consciousness. might be seen to deﬁne the operations of reason as essentially juridical functions. Kant und das Problem der Metaphysik. they articulate necessary preconditions for the meaningful systematization of cognitive experience. which is also sustained by an intensely juridical conception of reason. 39 38 .ARTICLE IN PRESS C. which it then imputes as the basis for the organization and regulation of knowledge and action. 3. Above all. reason constitutes itself as a self-reproducing unity of knowledge. 706. the rational human subject is the primary fact of being. However. Knowledge obtained within this perimeter is thus always open to the accusation that it is knowledge of nothing. The validity of human cognition depends. he asserts. the unity of the world. and they demarcate the full extent (or totality) of the realm of objectivity about which reason can have consistently tenable knowledge. which— ´ to use the contentious and critical term employed by Lukacs and Adorno—is legislatively reiﬁed against the plural phenomena of being. and which deﬁned Kantian thinking as a doctrine of epistemological and ethical legislation. Reason is thus primarily a static regulatory capacity. in short. upon the capacity of the rational subject to deduce through regressive synthesis the ‘unconditioned’ or transcendental ideas (i. For Kant. therefore. is a theory of totality. and they place regulative vetos on reason’s transgression beyond the perimeter of accountable validity. autonomously to organize and to preserve the transcendental foundations of this knowledge. 1990) 159.38 These metaphysical ideas constitute the primary foundation for human cognition: that is. Gesamtausgabe ed.40 In each of these respects. the immortality of the soul. 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. The ideas which mark the bounds of human knowledge have no determinate content. (Frankfurt am Main: Klostermann. are constituted as admissions that substantial metaphysical knowledge is not possible. Fr. against the vital experiences of human life. moreover. von Hermann vol. and the existence of God). Kant’s transcendentalism.
49. p. Philosophie I. leading through existence (soul). In this reconstruction. 193–221. 44 Jaspers. in consequence. ‘Kant und die Marburger Schule’. however.44 Jaspers thus recasts Kant’s transcendental ideas as ideas of experience. in which it enacts and reﬂects its distension This is expressed most perfectly by Paul Natorp. not where. which provides for a doctrine of existential communication. and their works form parallel attempts to overcome the formal reiﬁcation—or juridiﬁcation—of reason in Kant’s idealism. existing and transcendent life towards an ever-greater (but never-realized) unity of lived knowledge. Jaspers states. is practically apparent as ‘the total will to communication’. September 1937. but where it is impelled by particular experiences towards new modes of self-reﬂection and selfawareness. Philosophie (1932). 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. 43 ibid p. p. and proceeding to transcendence (God). It is only in decisive communication with another consciousness. See: Natorp. Responding to the juridical implications of Kantian conceptions of pure reason. 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.41 For an understanding of Jaspers and Adorno. M. Drei Vorlesungen gehalten am Freien Deutschen Hochstift in Frankfurt a.ARTICLE IN PRESS 70 C.45 This theory of existential reason also contains a crucial hermeneutic or communicative dimension. for example. Psychologie der Weltanschauungen. 53. p. he reconstructs Kant’s transcendental ideas as distinct realms of personal existence. it formally reproduces its own functional unity.42 Far from excluding experience from reason. Existenzphilosophie. Existenzphilosophie. he explains. and reason is drawn by the antinomical structure of its experiences through the levels of worldly. 73. in: Kant-Studien (1912) 17. 1956) 49. Existential reason. 2nd edition (Berlin: de Gruyter. and so dispose itself to its contents in meaningful reﬂection and interpretation. Thornhill / History of European Ideas 31 (2005) 61–84 cognitive integrity and ethical autonomy. both at the level of pure reason and practical reason. 198. 468. it is important to note that both are philosophers who. 45 Jaspers. Most especially. 46 Jaspers. that reason can truly detach itself from its formal order. reason encounters lived antinomies which can only be clariﬁed at a higher level of reﬂexivity. both attack the association of human integrity and rational self-legislation or autonomy which forms the core of neo-Kantian thinking.46 Speech is the modality in which consciousness accepts the limitations of its cognitive structure. reacted quite vehemently against this postKantian intellectual milieu. and so constantly alter its relation toward itself and toward its contents. centred in a prestructured subject. pp. Jaspers construes experiences as moments of subjective logic which transform reason and dislocate it from its realized limits. commencing with objective being (world).43 In his major earlier philosophical work. Reason approaches truthful knowledge. 42 Karl Jaspers. 41 . At each level. each idea describes a level of reﬂexive being. Jaspers proposes a theory of cognition based in a notion of existential reason.
51 It is for this reason that communication has such importance for Jaspers. For this ‘ethic of unconditionedness’. on Jaspers’s account. the law is not a formal–rational regulative for action. knowledge only genuinely becomes knowledge where it radically disrupts and alters the categorical order of the subject. whilst Kant ties practical moral integrity to the pre-formed unconditioned autonomy of consciousness. but these ideas are never fully manifest.48 Instead. and of itself. Ideas. are Jaspers. 48 47 . 51 ibid p.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 public communication is always ‘the condition for taking hold of truth’. At a more practical level. 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. deduced in accordance with prior universal rational principles. 261). Jaspers argues for an unstable and existential conception of authentic moral life and moral knowledge. 808–809. 185. of other people. and where it feels itself unconditionally drawn by these beyond the attitudes and rational limits which it already occupies. Philosophie II. Philosophie III. It is thus only where the thought can self-critically transcend the form of thought that truthful reﬂection. 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’. 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. is not bound by formal laws. 52 Jaspers. and truthful existence. Adorno’s epistemological critique of idealist theories of consciousness has certain similarities with that proposed by Jaspers. It is only in communication that consciousness can recognize its structure as limited and constituted by another. True ethical existence. 330. Philosophie I. it is an impulse which undermines all ‘rationally demonstrable’ laws. 27). p.50 and leads consciousness to new levels of self-reﬂection and self-knowledge. and for elaborating moral commitments with some claim to binding or unconditioned force. Thornhill / History of European Ideas 31 (2005) 61–84 71 beyond its given forms. Jaspers explains. and so reveals truth-contents which necessarily remain ‘closed’ for idealist accounts of reason.52 In consequence. 235. he explains. pp. are ‘anchored in subjects’ (ibid p. p. 50 Jaspers. Truly ethical existence evolves at those moments where human consciousness interprets its contents as absolute. The orientation of such thinking towards conceptual identity.49 born out of its own experiences and vitally relevant for its own evolution and integrity. rather. 333. Existential philosophy itself is the ‘self-illumination of unconditionedness’ (Jaspers. prevents the subject from gaining truthful knowledge of other things. 49 Jaspers. aligning all things to pre-formed categories in the subject. And this freedom is always the freedom of reason from itself. and so they act as unconditioned impulses which lead particular existence beyond its ﬁxed subjective and objective positions. Von der Wahrheit. p. In fact. Philosophie I.ARTICLE IN PRESS C. but it follows intensely particular directives.
54 Most famously. 1970) 379. 184. Autonomy. in sum. 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. 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.58 and it endlessly perpetuates the cognitive origins of such conditions. and where destructively mimetic relations to objective contents. to encourage thought to posit its own conceptual and judgmental identity as the full and ﬁnal extent of truth. p. obstructs the genuine determinant of human being— namely. as an unblocking of what he 53 54 Adorno. Adorno proposes his own negative-dialectical or mimetic method. it is for this reason that the art work has such a privileged place in Adorno’s philosophy. 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. 58 ibid p. 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. Adorno. he claims.ARTICLE IN PRESS 72 C. p. not mediated by formal concepts. Autonomy. after Kant. For Jaspers. quite literally.57 PostEnlightenment ideas of autonomy. the Kantian deﬁnition of freedom as a ‘function of regularity’ is always merely a ‘heteronomous and authoritarian’ ﬁction of moral integrity. 56 Adorno.: Suhrkamp. Like Jaspers. In close analogy. 55 ¨ Theodor W. as the ‘supreme concept’ of post-Enlightenment moral and cognitive philosophy. Asthetische Theorie (Frankfurt a. Negative Dialektik. therefore.56 and he views this centration of thinking and acting on subjective autonomy as the malignant rational foundation of modern society. likewise. the capacity for freedom. and with the rejection of formal–ethical autonomy manifest in Jaspers’s work. 57 ibid p. he thus intimates. p. 87. Adorno laments how the ‘ability to give oneself laws’ has established itself. For Adorno. serve only to regularize human thought.55 At a more practical level. 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. 87. ibid p. Adorno’s critique of Kant again has certain similarities with Jaspers. 24. Negative Dialektik. This ﬁction obscures social conditions founded in unfreedom and repression. Kants Kritik der reinen Vernunft. Thornhill / History of European Ideas 31 (2005) 61–84 imaginable. M. 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. In these respects. and to a conﬁnement of human life in extremely constrained deﬁnitions of its possible unity and self-realization. . can be instantiated. Adorno. in consequence. as he views art as a site in which the altering of reason by objective experience can be disclosed. 87. The most fundamental objective of Adorno’s entire philosophy is. 240.
be misguided to say that Jaspers and Adorno are simply identical in all these respects. Like Kierkegaard before him. despite their attempts to overcome the formality of reason in Kantian philosophy. Schelling. Although both clearly oppose the idea that thought on its own is the origin and author of truth. both identify crucial truth-contents in idealism which they are not willing to sacriﬁce in order to overcome its formalist tendencies. Adorno suggests that reason must reconﬁgure itself in order to include nonreductive relations to other objects and to other people. p. positive-dialectical or positive-hermeneutical path beyond Kantian theories of consciousness. p. although both renounce idealism as an account of human knowledge. Negative Dialektik. by contrast. GroX e und Verha ¨ ¨ngnis (Munich: Piper. outside its taxonomic boundaries. In fact. is prepared to follow an ontological. both claim that consciousness which simply proclaims itself in concrete unity with its phenomena only offers a spurious escape from the formality of idealism. 62 Adorno. underpinning the philosophical perspectives of both Jaspers and Adorno is a clear rejection of identity-based epistemology. is a concept of freedom which identiﬁes human liberty in the moments of self-evasion where reason leaps across the shadow of its autonomy. that Adorno. The freedom of metaphysics Of the greatest importance in this analysis is the fact that.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. and that reﬂection cannot simply be levelled into objective or material processes. Negative Dialektik. 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. 151. Underlying the philosophical projects of Adorno and Jaspers. Adorno. therefore. most crucially. 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. and permits itself to be intimately transﬁgured by its contents.61 Neither. both still uphold the deﬁning insight of idealism: namely. and of all cognitive systems which ground validity in the assimilation of objects to pre-structured categories of reason. Kants Kritik der reinen Vernunft.60 Nonetheless. 61 Karl Jaspers. p. quite naturally.ARTICLE IN PRESS C. 60 59 . It would. 113. Thornhill / History of European Ideas 31 (2005) 61–84 73 perceives as Kant’s formal-legislatory conception of reason. neither Adorno nor Jaspers sanctions a resolutely anti-idealist path beyond the impasse of rational formalization or reiﬁcation. 1955) 97.62 Consequently. ibid p. 264. Indeed. which they associate with Kant. both still argue that human consciousness possesses a speciﬁc determinacy over and against objective-historical or material experience. In clear opposition to Kierkegaard. Jaspers protests mainly against the idealist formalization of reason because this ostracizes the contents of particular subjective experience from the purview of consciousness. 121.
is the fact that. What perturbs Heidegger most in Kant’s idealism. Although critical of neo-Kantianism to the same extent as Jaspers and Adorno. pp. even (or especially) where this entails a fragmentation of its own inner structure. in short. . which limits truth to historically obtained knowledge. autonomist aspects of neo-Kantian thinking. pp. 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. and so reduces thought and experience to an empty doctrine of immanence and autonomy. Heidegger’s interpretation of Kant thus ultimately actually extends and intensiﬁes the anti-metaphysical. 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. Hans Saner (Munich: Piper. which gives to human subjectivity a juridical priority over its temporal and material foundation. and the idealist claim that particular consciousness is the primary place of cognitive truth is (at least in intention) decisively abandoned.ARTICLE IN PRESS 74 C. abstracted from the evolving phenomena of the factual–historical world. Jahrbuch fu pha ¨r ¨nomenologische Forschung. is thus its residual attachment to metaphysics. Kant und das Problem der Metaphysik. 191–195.64 The overcoming of idealism can. is that he sees the conception of autonomy evolving from it as covert metaphysics: as a perspective. More important still. also Hermann Morchen. to remove the last remnants of metaphysics and dualism from Kant’s anthropology and epistemology. as attempted by Heidegger. ¨ 311–495. however. Jaspers and Adorno offer a perspective on Kantian idealism which is expressly sympathetic to its residual metaphysical components. In Heidegger’s work. both expressly claim. especially Heidegger. but which views Kantian notions of autonomy as untenable because they are excessively subjectivized and insufﬁciently temporal and historical. and in which reason always participates. and because it confuses freedom with individual acts of rational self-legislation. through the translation of the 63 For Heidegger. Both still view truth as an occurrence in which reason is profoundly implicated. in consequence. unlike many of their most ´ inﬂuential philosophical contemporaries. Jaspers and Adorno oppose Kantian thinking because they believe that it illegitimately suppresses all metaphysical traces in human thought and experience. 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. and consequently to concentrate human life in total worldliness and total temporality. I. 1930. and of its metaphysical origins. the reiﬁed consciousness of idealism gives way to a fully temporalized conception of reason. and which has an ideal reality against these conditions. quasi-transcendent centre of agency against the reality of historical and temporal being (See: Heidegger. The root origin of the reiﬁed consciousness. whilst other contemporary critics of Kant and Kantianism criticize idealism because they consider it still surreptitiously metaphysical. The problem of reiﬁcation is overcome here via a ﬁnal disavowal of idealism. Die Einbildungskraft bei Kant. that is. 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. Indeed. and reject the autonomy of consciousness proposed by idealism because it remains attached to metaphysical or dualist principles in its account of human determinacy. 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. In other words.63 but also Lukacs. 352). 1978) 194). Heidegger’s answer to this is to renounce reason altogether as the ground of freedom. for Heidegger. which frames human subjectivity as a timelessly ordering. Notizen zu Martin Heidegger ed. not be accomplished.
Adorno asserts that Kant’s construct of the transcendental subject is intended primarily as a ‘block’ which occludes reason against phenomenal and metaphysical knowledge. 14. p. Sein und Zeit. 16th edition (Tubingen: Niemeyer. Adorno explains. and which closes reason in a repetitive cycle of invariable cognitive functions. in shared hostility to Heidegger. and from the ensuing curtailment of reason’s legitimate horizon. as a doctrine of closed worldly totality. Nonetheless. a la Heidegger. which refuses to renounce all possible metaphysical knowledge. p. for both. . perhaps despite itself. 34).67 In fact. Negative Dialektik. Once again. 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. 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. is to recognize that the transcendental block is only superﬁcially a positive act of senseconstitution. 1986) 388. Adorno also sees Kant’s epistemology as always both suppressing and reﬂecting a great despair about the contents which must 65 Heidegger. Notizen zu Martin Heidegger. opens a terrain in which reason might freely think its truth as other than itself alone. Adorno. for both. Jaspers and Adorno are united in indicating. and this. Thornhill / History of European Ideas 31 (2005) 61–84 75 transcendental-idealist unity of consciousness into a historical unity of consciousness.65 Instead. both still identify in idealism an abiding transcendental attachment to metaphysics. which stabilizes cognitive validity as a defensive and strictly demarcated realm of positive meaning. In fact. 19). so that it permits reason to become a contentless tautology. and which. both Adorno and Jaspers conclude that idealism can only be superseded if it is correctively interpreted as an intuition of open. Jaspers and Adorno view Kant’s idealism—however paradoxically—as a philosophy which makes thematic the presence of metaphysics. The error of Kantianism. not reconstructed. Adorno discusses these issues with the greatest clarity in lectures not published during his lifetime. the Kantian reiﬁcation of consciousness arises from the elimination of metaphysics from reason. (See: Theodor W. Indeed. transcendent ` experience. 67 Jaspers aptly accuses Heidegger of instituting ‘a new positivism’ amidst the debris of idealism (Jaspers. still upholds a vision of reason which speaks against and counteracts the expressly formalizing and positivizing impulses of idealist epistemology. is that it identiﬁes the truth of reason with reason itself. but in a rejection of pure autonomy as the basis of the human. however. In consequence. as an attempt transcendentally to mark and reﬂect the limits of worldly truth. Nachgelassene Schriften section IV. 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. To illuminate this point. 66 Adorno describes Heidegger’s ontology as a metaphysics of the reiﬁed world. not in an ontological reconﬁguration of autonomy as historical immanence. that the formalization of reason in Kant’s idealism is not caused by its metaphysical abstraction from temporal phenomena. Metaphysik. but this diagnosis could equally originate from Jaspers (Adorno.ARTICLE IN PRESS C. On a more fundamental level. 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. Begriff und Probleme. At the same time. vol. p. the key to understanding Kantian epistemology. 102).66 The way beyond autonomy to freedom lies therefore.
168. ‘lays claim to totality’. 74 Jaspers. in fact. therefore. Kant’s formal subjectivization of knowledge is reason’s last attempt to reﬂect a totality of knowledge. 71 ibid p. he interprets totality. p. and it reﬂects. 5.71 As discussed above. Each ‘ﬁnite form of existence’. 477. it narrates the story of reason as it painfully experiences its formal imprisonment and alienation. of totality. Jaspers and Adorno. even where it cannot guarantee this totality except in the false categories of subjective unity. as moments in an experienced trajectory of existential selfchoice. 171.69 Even that formal-transcendental ‘immersion in the interior’. Adorno indicates that Kant’s philosophy is never ﬁnally and absolutely about the expulsion of metaphysics.68 Indeed. implies to Adorno—however dialectically—a lament on the loss of genuine knowledge.70 For Adorno. not as the regulative end of reason.72 Similarly. restricted always by the constraints of formal consciousness. and he too attempts to reﬁgure the core Kantian concepts of the unconditioned. Jaspers also suggests that Kant’s theory of the transcendental subject incorporates a potential doctrine of spontaneous experience. by which idealism stabilizes knowledge against precarious experiential and metaphysical contents. ibid p. 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. 70 ibid p. Instead. agree that the concept of the transcendental in Kant’s idealism cannot ﬁnally obliterate the transcendent cognitive aspirations which it seeks to replace. . 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. not as the formal boundaries of reason. 171. For these reasons.74 Most importantly in these debates. Philosophie III. 72 Jaspers. offers a reading of Kant which hears beneath the surface of his transcendental formalism a half-suppressed doctrine of freedom and transcendence. and of transcendental ideas. Jaspers also interprets Kant’s terminologies as ciphers for submerged metaphysical ambitions and hopes. Adorno detects in Kant’s transcendentalism a remote ‘inspiring force’. but as a substantive demand for possible knowledge and experience. but as lived moments. p. He interprets unconditioned ideas. for more reﬂected. 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. and force existence to respond to its most transcendent imperatives. Adorno 68 69 Adorno. and for more total forms of consciousness. like Kierkegaard before them.ARTICLE IN PRESS 76 C. which ‘encompass the limit’ of human understanding. self-liberation and transcendent knowledge. and all existence feels itself guided by the desire for higher. 169. p. 73 ibid p.73 Jaspers thus. Kants Kritik der reinen Vernunft. which dimly seeks to escape the ‘metaphysical night’ of reiﬁed reason. Like Adorno. he explains. like Adorno. 379. at least. the liberating (and even existential) desire of reason to place itself beyond the bounds of the cognitive totality which it has instituted for itself. Psychologie der Weltanschauungen.
Metaphysik. and it articulates the abiding.77 For Adorno. pp. in distinction from autonomy. 77 Adorno. and which sees metaphysical imagination as integrally constitutive of genuine human life. underlying their philosophical perspectives is an approach. grounds his entire philosophy in the attempt to reinterpret transcendental ideas as ideas of transcendence. ﬁrstly. Adorno. is always also metaphysical experience. yet ephemeral sense that the cognitive and social forms in which existence is placed are insufﬁcient. pp. clearly. To this extent. withheld. they concur profoundly with each other in their claim that subjective transcendence and non-reiﬁed objective understanding are reciprocally constitutive. or deferred. Both Adorno and Jaspers thus set out parallel reconstructions of Kant. 157–158.78 The ‘situation of hopeless waiting’.75 Jaspers. rejects the formal heteronomy of classical metaphysics. Both Jaspers and Adorno thus engage with metaphysics not as a science of pure essences. . and that more truthful contents also exist which cannot be incorporated in these forms. 327. like Kant and Heidegger. Against Heidegger. therefore. both belong to a line of philosophy which. in fact. Kants Kritik der reinen Vernunft. in which 75 76 Adorno. Consequently. analogously. but as metaphysics of experience. insists that the importance of metaphysics is only manifest as the content of thinking experience. whilst Heidegger rereads Kant to locate the space of human freedom. born from a Proustian sense that the truth of experience is always lost. p. Jaspers and Adorno engage with Kantian philosophy precisely to salvage transcendence. 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. 218.ARTICLE IN PRESS C. Genuine experience. and of true humanity itself. at the ﬁnal end of metaphysics. has its precondition in metaphysics. Jaspers and Adorno both reread Kant to ﬁnd that this freedom. Adorno. which dialectically proclaims the desire of the reasoning subject to transcend and free itself from its selfimposed limits. Metaphysics and humanism Neither Jaspers nor Adorno declares himself to be in solidarity with metaphysics as a science of positive truths or essences. However. Negative Dialektik.76 Unlike Heidegger. and that thought must endlessly interrogate itself for the truth-contents which it has banished or suppressed through its categorial structure. in which all classical dualist conceptions of the ‘indifference’ of the temporal and the metaphysical toward each other have been abandoned. not deﬁnitively to expel it from human thought. 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. which are absolutely prior or external to human reﬂection and experience. 385–386. 78 ibid p. for Adorno. Thornhill / History of European Ideas 31 (2005) 61–84 77 argues that the transcendental is always an aporetic concept. the ‘metaphysical’ is deeply implicated in the structures of human life.
p. As such. 201. Der philosophische Glaube angesichts der Offenbarung (Munich: Piper 1962) 196). in which reason confronts ﬁgures of its possible transcendence. 101. 1951).84 This appearance. 224. Adorno develops his dialectics. philosophical and religious symbols. 80 79 .83 For both Jaspers and Adorno. Thornhill / History of European Ideas 31 (2005) 61–84 human thought feels its truth as interminably obscured from it. is only possible as an experience of foundering (Scheitern). the greatest proximity to metaphysical knowledge appears in the ‘uninterpretable cipher’:81 that is. as an evanescent experience of transcendence. 207. Karl Jaspers. the space of metaphysics dissolves into a cipher-like dialectical image of authentic experience. and in such metaphysics everything which has been ‘achieved by philosophizing is called into question again and again’.ARTICLE IN PRESS 78 C. 232. can only be deciphered from the experiential fragments of human loss and despair. or negative dialectics. p. occurs in the existential hermeneutic of aesthetic.79 In this. Adorno. for all the manifest hostility between them. Theodor W. 82 ibid p. negative dialectics is always also an ibid p. for both. pp. In such metaphysics. then. or ciphers.80 In close analogy. it might be claimed that Jaspers and Adorno. p. Negative Dialektik. 85 Both Jaspers and Adorno therefore emphasize their sympathy with the prohibition of the image in metaphysical and theological discourse. which desperately interprets elements of experience. 81 Jaspers. symbolized in ciphers. 353.: Suhrkamp. 232. especially in art. and he deﬁnes metaphysics as a lived knowledge of the unending disjuncture between the thought and the truth of thought. 234. Metaphysical knowledge.82 Metaphysics. In fact. for the transcendent knowledge which these might contain. Metaphysik. in order to intimate the possible truth of human consciousness as the fragmentation of the epistemological limits of reason. As metaphysics. thought becomes a hermeneutic of dialectical appearances. in this image. Jaspers also sees metaphysics not as a series of positive categories or essences. Minima Moralia. however. in which reﬂexive existence lives through the crisis of its inability to interpret the essence of its founding alterity or transcendence. 222. p. thus. Jaspers explains. Adorno. construct their philosophical methods for quite similar purposes. in symbolic forms where human thinking dimly apprehends its transcendence. the trace of the thought’s truth can only appear as a cipher of its absence. whose illumination shows up the absolute insufﬁciency of all given experiences and attitudes. but can obtain no manifest content or positive hold for this apprehension. Negative Dialektik. and experiences the profound failure of its attempts to account for its own primary essence and meaning.85 Against this background. 83 ibid p. in Kierkegaardian manner. Philosophie I. M. and despairingly anticipates a disclosure of its full meaning. reason can only sustain an interpretation of its truth as a disappearing appearance—not fact—of transcendence. Reﬂexionen aus dem bescha ¨digten Leben (Frankfurt a. and both see all manifest imagery of transcendence as a corruption of theology and metaphysics (Adorno. is thus the shape in which ‘metaphysical experience is strongest’. Adorno gives new articulation to the Kierkegaardian motif of inward metaphysical despair. Closeness to metaphysical knowledge. is an ‘uninterpretable destruction’ of reason. 84 Adorno. but.
which sees the truth of reﬂection as a ﬂeeting interpretive freedom in which contents of consciousness. then. 88 Theodor W.: Athenaum. Jaspers also develops his theory of truth as a negative hermeneutics. 239). M. 19. 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. which shows that the truth of reason can on no account be reduced to its this-worldly self-reproduction. In his excellent. 91 Jaspers. p. His dialectics might in fact plausibly be viewed as a quasi-hermeneutical theory of knowledge. 41. Metaphysik. See: Adorno. his dialectical thinking always contains a strong experiential moment. Erkenntniskritik und Negative Metaphysik bei ¨ Adorno. .91 In consequence. suspending both dialectical and epistemological truth-claims. 87 Although here I argue against the grain of most Adorno scholarship. I am not alone in interpreting Adorno as a hermeneutician. Prismen: Kulturkritik und Gesellschaft (Frankfurt a. Eine Philosophie der dritten Reﬂektiertheit. in fact. reason interprets both the dis-unity of its form and the alterity of its contents.88 In Adorno’s dialectical hermeneutics. but he also claims that Adorno’s work is primarily ‘centred in a metacritique of Kant’s critique of reason’ (p. moreover. This hermeneutic. 90 Adorno avails himself of clearly Existentialist terminology when talking of metaphysical experience. 224.ARTICLE IN PRESS C. Jaspers’s existential hermeneutics form a direct analogue to Adorno’s dialectics. Hegels Aufhebung des ¨ metaphysischen Wahrheitsbegriffes’.: Suhrkamp. Frankfurt a. the content of truth is only accessible for the form of consciousness if this form recognizes its own 86 On these questions. p. ‘Begriff und Realitat. not as mere variables in the syntheses of reason’ (Negative Dialektik. Geburtstag (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft. Vernunft und Existenz. Denken im Schatten des Nihilismus. see: Michael Theunissen. and both subject and object render unstable the synthetic categories in which they commonly appear. 195. 1. 1988).89 Thus. but quite badly neglected book. Muller does not ¨ ¨ expressly mention Jaspers. ¨r 1975) 164–195. As for Adorno. human existence experiences and communicates itself as an inﬁnitely unstable relation towards its own cognitive properties. 8) and he emphasizes the status of ‘negative metaphysics’ in Adorno’s reaction against Kant (p.90 In some respects. 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. therefore. 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. 1976) 7–26. Adorno. in: Alexander Schwan (ed). although Adorno is surely not in any eminent way an Existential philosopher. negative dialectics. Ulrich Muller also describes ¨ Adorno as a ‘critical hermeneutician’ (Ulrich Muller. 398). might be interpreted as a negative hermeneutics. Festschrift fu Wilhelm Weischedel zum 70. which is not ﬁnally or decisively at odds with Existential thinking.87 which interprets the true contents of experience as always transcending and subverting the identity-forming categories imposed on them. appear as indices of the subject’s own possible otherness to itself. p. in which human reason only interprets its truth by symbolically reﬂecting the ways in which truth is withheld.86 In this light. Thornhill / History of European Ideas 31 (2005) 61–84 79 immanent metaphysics. Through this crisis. ‘Kulturkritik und Gesellschaft’. normally obscured by its limits. M.
92 As discussed. even if this is not the case. and where. see again: Alfred Schmidt. in consequence. Metaphysics can offer freedom only where it negates humanity in its cognitive and worldly forms. 261). However. Kierkegaard. whose philosophy is certainly less inclined to hypostatic conceptions of the conditions of human being than that of Kierkegaard. p. 93 On the relation between metaphysics and humanism in Adorno’s thought. and he expresses a measured sympathy for Kierkegaard’s work. p. both assert. therefore. there are a couple of points where he expresses a view on Jaspers’s metaphysics. or only through the self-negating self-interpretation of both humanity and metaphysics. p. originally published in 1933. 73. ‘Trennung von Metaphysik und Ontologie bei Karl Jaspers’.93 However. Jaspers very rarely even acknowledges the presence of Adorno. both Adorno and Jaspers view metaphysics as a precondition of human truth and human freedom. In view of the widespread association of Jaspers with Kierkegaard. in short. in: Dieter Henrich and Rolf-Peter Horstmann (eds). In Adorno’s oeuvre. Kierkegaard. 228). which gives rise to communication. is always a relation of negative interpretation and negative self-interpretation. and very short piece on Kierkegaard. p. 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). . ‘Adorno—ein Philosoph des realen Humanismus’. 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. naturally. both interpretive methods which are informed by a conception of negative metaphysics. to its obtained unity.95 There 92 For the relevance of this term to Jaspers. Vernunft und Existenz. Adorno’s negative dialectics and Jaspers’s negative hermeneutics are. in the afterword to the new edition (1962) of Adorno’s earliest book on Kierkegaard.ARTICLE IN PRESS 80 C. in fact. 1988) 323–329. Metaphysik nach Kant? Stuttgarter Hegel-KongreX 1987 (Stuttgart: Klett. as a philosophy ‘which always knew itself to be counter-posed to the equation of metaphysics with a doctrine of the ahistorically unchangeable’ (Adorno. this may have some relevance for Jaspers. 70. can only be construed dialectically. in which reason distantly deciphers the transcendence of its true contents. 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. cipherinterpretation and the interpretive fragmentation of reason. (See Adorno. both Jaspers and Adorno are clearly engaged in a salvaging re-reading of Kierkegaard. but it can only be this truth as a dialectical truth. it allows itself to be critically and transformatively experienced as other than pure metaphysics. One of these comes in a very late. not be taken to imply that Adorno and Jaspers have identical views in their claims about metaphysics.94 The fact that these similarities exist should. Jaspers. p. and so allows itself to be fractured and transformed by its attempt to think this truth. thus. is the truth of humanity. see: Jeanne Hersch. they also argue against classical dualist metaphysics and against idealist reconstructions of metaphysical elements as positive properties of reason. 95 Neither Adorno nor Jaspers pronounce extensively on the metaphysical implications of the other’s work. Thornhill / History of European Ideas 31 (2005) 61–84 critical inadequacy for truth. Metaphysics. 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. and of itself. where it negates itself as a prior order of being. by interpreting the Kierkegaardian motif of metaphysical despair as a hermeneutical impulse. In this short note Adorno revises his earlier rather relentless critique of Kierkegaard. The liberating contents of metaphysics. Adorno’s willingness to rehabilitate Kierkegaard provides an opening for some kind of dialogue with Jaspers. The relation to truth. 15).
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. Kant-Studien (1961–1962) 53. who attempts to extract from Aristotle a critical dualism and a doctrine of radical autonomy. Adorno. 100 Adorno. however. on the other hand. the Aristotelian. pp.’ Adorno concludes. is therefore decisively after metaphysics. 441–489. in contrast. and Jaspers. 73. p. Kant. Platons Lehre von der Wahrheit. ‘Uber den Humanismus’. who expressly views ideas as lived moments of experience. Heidegger. In this contrast between Adorno. Negative Dialektik. Jaspers and Adorno are very close to each other in the humanization of metaphysics which they propose. 43. it might be noted that Jaspers is a very unusual Platonist. the Platonist. As discussed. 90. 703.98 Equally importantly. the neo-Kantians. like Heidegger. is quite clear that the human does not yet exist as the human. For Adorno and Jaspers. but is interpretable only as metaphysical. 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.96 Adorno. 99 Jaspers. Adorno. yet dialectical humanity. ‘Subjectively liberated experience and metaphysical experience. p.97 In this respect. likewise.100 Despite these distinctions. Mit einem Brief u ¨ber den Humanismus (Bern: Francke. p. certain fundamental distinctions between them in these debates. and he claims Aristotle as his own forebear.101 or entirely to exclude metaphysical elements from the scope of human knowledge. ‘Existenziale Platondeutung’. Psychologie der Weltanschauungen. as the philosopher who originally thematizes and seeks to overcome the metaphysical breach between truth and reality.103 Jaspers. pp. Jaspers identiﬁes the deepest meaning of metaphysics in its articulation of a logic of subjective experience. Negative Dialektik. however. p. p. Vernunft und Existenz. 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. 102 ¨ Martin Heidegger. Indeed. Adorno must necessarily view Jaspers. On this. Kritik der reinen Vernunft. 97 96 . 242. 61. 60.99 in direct opposition to Heidegger’s authoritarian-functionalist brand of Aristotelianism. For instance. metaphysics possesses a profound. cannot be viewed as the property of an ‘isolated I’ or as residing in Jaspers. and that Adorno is a rather unconvincing Aristotelian. he asserts. The contrast does therefore not have the force which it might otherwise possess. therefore.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. which gives individual existence a clear primacy over objects of reﬂection.ARTICLE IN PRESS C. Kant und das Problem der Metaphysik. see: Ottomar Wichmann. 98 Adorno. rather perversely asserts that Aristotle’s philosophy is the ﬁrst true metaphysics. Thornhill / History of European Ideas 31 (2005) 61–84 81 are also. as a covert idealist. for Kant. not pure essences. and in their views on the possible intersection of metaphysics and human freedom. to be sure. and Heidegger all attempt either to transform metaphysics into the foundations of a human reality. 103 Adorno. Humanity. Metaphysik. or has pressed itself. 101 Kant. the neo-Kantians and Heidegger. 1947) 76–77. p. 41. 397. always ‘converge in humanity’. Jargon der Eigentlichkeit. in his reconception of metaphysics Jaspers implicitly places himself in a Platonist line of thinking. p.
and this has invariably destroyed precisely that humanity and that freedom which they wish to delineate. 2002) 116–118). Each position in this line of anti-metaphysical reﬂection is sustained by a this-worldly unity of consciousness. over which particular life has no control (See: Chris Thornhill. and in the oppressively immanent reiﬁcation of reason against its own possible cognitive. In marked antithesis to these perspectives. 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. p. the critique of metaphysics is articulated as a critique of heteronomy. and each position in this lineage seeks to mark out the human as an arena of cognitive. the attempt to conﬁgure the human as a sphere of fully formed and unitary agency.ARTICLE IN PRESS 82 C. in which human reason (either ideal or historical) assumes as its own the unity of causality and validity originally possessed. Negative Dialektik. as discussed. Adorno famously Jaspers. include metaphysics. Thornhill / History of European Ideas 31 (2005) 61–84 ‘empirical factuality’: instead. 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. by metaphysics. Philosophie II. p. leaves human existence centred on historical systems of authority and adherence. freedom. it is a condition of communication. 69). During the same period.105 Attempts to envision human freedom in categories which are absolutely independent of metaphysics have succeeded only. moral and political freedoms. can only ever—Jaspers and Adorno indicate— result in the reproduction of heteronomy. but in the difference of metaphysics from all that the human being already is.104 For both. the place of the human is not after metaphysics. Karl Jaspers. and its ethical derivatives. and selfinterpretation on the ground of metaphysical ideas. 105 104 . outside humanity. Adorno. through which reason accounts for itself as a speciﬁc realm of self-legislating and self-interpreting order and validity. Apart from Adorno’s tersely dismissive philosophical attitude to Jaspers.106 These agreements about metaphysics also have implications for how we interpret the political rivalry between Adorno and Jaspers. Negative Dialektik. however dialectically. either in ideal or objective order. 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. as exempliﬁed by Kant and Heidegger. (London: Routledge. in conferring a hypostatic form on human freedom. Jaspers was a strong (though temporary) supporter of Adenauer. however. after metaphysics. At this time. 49. 106 Adorno directly claims that Heidegger’s intended abolition of metaphysics serves to further the cause of worldly heteronomy (see: Adorno. and he saw the restored economic system of liberal capitalism as the most effective socio-economic bastion against totalitarian planning and governance. therefore. This claim is less explicit in Jaspers’s thought. 398. moral and political meaning. In fact. From Kant to Heidegger. p. Politics and Metaphysics. but he too clearly indicates that Heidegger’s temporalization of human reason.
correspond approximately to the following model. tolerance and communicative freedom.107 This ethic suspends all demands for 107 Karl Jaspers. and he is notoriously reticent in making pronouncements about the actual institutional forms of government which he might accept as possessing legitimacy. and the modes of economic production and social production resulting from these. and that other possibilities might intrude on the reality of domination which people presently inhabit. practically if not theoretically. The vision set out by Jaspers was the one which. The political presence of metaphysics would place a veto on all assumptions that the existing forms of human consciousness. At the core of this vision is the sense that existential reason. then.ARTICLE IN PRESS C. Adorno is not in any eminent way a political theorist. it is arguable that we gain the clearest possible insight into Adorno’s model of legitimate—or. a legitimate socio-political condition would. for Adorno. However. 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. Reconstructed in these terms. and there can be little consensus between them on the sociological or economic aspects of their political ideas and ideals. Einfu ¨hrung in die Philosophie (Munich: Piper. as considered above. for Adorno. that reason can gain consciousness of the fact that the course of the world is not absolutely closed. 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. are permanent or necessary. 1953) 70. it would be a condition in which the horizons of human freedom would be constantly deferred and postponed. truly human—politics by considering the implications of his critical reading of Kantian idealism and neoKantianism. 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 they projected sharply antagonistic visions of its future. it would be a condition in which the legal structures connecting human beings would be freed from dominatory or proprietorial orientations. It would be a condition in which human interaction would not be bound by the deﬁnition of human beings as formally autonomous legal subjects. for Adorno. the interpersonal conditions constituting a social order approaching legitimacy would require metaphysics. self-interpreting on the ground of disappearing metaphysical contents. it should be emphasized here that. 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. has its concrete corollary in a political ethic of plurality. for all his impact on political reﬂection. was ultimately to prevail. Obviously. and in which a maximum of existing plurality and difference between human beings would be accepted and legitimized. Above all. Broadly reconstructed on this basis. Adorno’s idea of the non-instrumental society is strikingly similar to that which informs Jaspers’s own political stance. Jaspers and Adorno thus interpreted the origins of the new Republic in sharply opposed perspectives. which agonistically elucidates the metaphysical idea of freedom. Indeed. it would be rather fatuous to paper over the differences between Adorno and Jaspers on these points. . It is only in metaphysics.
by their great hostility to the philosophy of pure immanence. Thornhill / History of European Ideas 31 (2005) 61–84 dogmatic unity and identity.ARTICLE IN PRESS 84 C. can never ‘become authority. that a Republic guaranteeing conditions of genuine human freedom will be one which will assume a different attitude to the metaphysical legacy.109 and so places a categorical prohibition on all absoluteness of worldly truth-claims. Metaphysical contents. across all party-political divides between them.108 Indeed. which will not confuse political legitimacy with practical or historical self-regulation. This misreading falsely constructed the world as an entirely immanent reality. p. Jaspers views metaphysics as a ‘suspension of absolute possibility’. 110. and it sees the truth of reason only in its communicative difference from what it already is. 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. Most importantly. for Jaspers. both suggest. which insists that all worldly or cognitive forms are temporary and limited. Der philosophische Glaube angesichts der Offenbarung. Jaspers and Adorno both conclude. p. Psychologie der Weltanschauungen. nor dogma’. Jaspers. most especially in its Heideggerian expression. Truthfully engaged communicative deferral is therefore. and can never give stable foundations to political order. 108 109 Jaspers. it rejects the assumption that reason can autonomously legislate the objective conditions of social freedom. 137. but remain ‘reliant on communication between people’ for their truth to be disclosed. and the metaphysical ideas of freedom which appear in this deferral provide the sole orientation for good politics. 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. both intimate that the triumph of totalitarianism in the 1930s and 1940s was rooted. Their own writings are directly bound. philosophically. This anti-metaphysical tendency. therefore. the only foundation of authentic human society. and then falsely placed the autonomous rational or historical human being at the legislative centre of this reality. therefore. Beyond the complex metaphysical and epistemological dialogues between Adorno and Jaspers. . Jaspers explains. ethics and politics. like Adorno.