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The Journal of Aesthetic Education, Volume 48, Number 3, Fall 2014,

pp. 1-4 (Article)
DOI: 10.1353/jae.2014.0018

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Introduction: Perfectionism
and EducationKant and Cavell
on Ethics and Aesthetics in Society
Klas Roth, Martin Gustafsson,
and Viktor Johansson
Immanuel Kants conception of ethics and aesthetics, including his philosophy of judgment and practical knowledge, are widely discussed today
among scholars in various fields: philosophy, political science, aesthetics,
educational science, and others. His ideas continue to inspire and encourage
an ongoing interdisciplinary dialogue, leading to an increasing awareness of
the interdependence between societies and people and a clearer sense of the
challenges we face in cultivating ourselves as moral beings.
Early on in his career, Cavell began to recognize the strong connection between Kants aesthetics (as it finds its expression in the Critique of the Power
of Judgment) and the claims of ordinary language philosophy. In this connection, he also found a fruitful way of dealing with philosophical problems in
response to modern art and music. Commentators have found in Cavells
work powerful criticisms of, and novel support for, a Kantian aesthetics.
Cavell was also one of the first to describe Wittgenstein as working within a
Kantian framework.
In both Kants and Cavells aesthetics, moral practice and education
play an absolutely central role. Both philosophers see art as crucial to moral
education, in its capacity to cultivate and expand our moral experience. It
is, therefore, surprising how little has been written on their contribution to
education, in particular, on how their views on the relation between ethics
and aesthetics matter to education and contemporary educational theory.
The aim of this collection of papers is to discuss the value, significance,
and relevance of Kants and Cavells conceptions of education, ethics, and
aesthetics in relation to contemporary educational theory. In particular,
Kants and Cavells conceptions of moral perfectionism and education are
in focus. The first contribution is an original paper by Paul Guyer (Brown
University), one of the worlds leading scholars on Kant and a student of
Cavells. Guyer has written on almost every aspect of Kants philosophy,
including education, and he has developed novel and highly influential interpretations throughout his academic career.
Journal of Aesthetic Education, Vol. 48, No. 3, Fall 2014
2014 Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois

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2Roth, Gustafsson, and Johansson

Guyers paper serves as the starting point for the other contributions,
written by (in order of appearance) Klas Roth (Stockholm University),
Pradeep Dillon (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign), Viktor Johansson (Stockholm University), Richard Eldridge (Swarthmore College), Alice
Crary (New School for Social Research), Martin Gustafsson (bo Akademi
University), and Timothy Gould (Metropolitan State University).
In Examples of Perfectionism, Guyer argues that there are deeper affinities between Kants and Cavells conceptions of perfectionism and education than most commentators (including Cavell himself) have recognized.
The first affinity has to do with the relation between reason and freedom.
As Guyer understands Kants moral philosophy, rationality does not figure there as an end in itself, but rather as a means to human freedom: the
use of reason is a necessary but not sufficient condition for the perfection
of the will, that is, for free choice. Guyer argues that we can find a similar structure in Cavells thought. Even if there are passages where Cavell
might seem to suggest that making oneself intelligible to oneself and others
is the main goal of moral perfectionism, Guyer offers a reading according
to which Cavell thinks such intelligibility is merely a necessary condition
for the substantive aim of perfectionist striving, namely, the full exercise of
ones freedom. The second (and related) affinity Guyer sees between Kant
and Cavell has to do with their views of moral education. Guyer brings out
the ways in which both thinkers emphasize the significance of examples in
such education. According to Guyer, Kant and Cavell both appreciate how
actual instances of real-life moral striving are indispensible when it comes
to providing an understanding of how finite human existence can involve
the freedom to be moral. Guyer connects this point with Kants and Cavells
shared sense that the striving for moral perfection is never ending.
In his response, Klas Roth explores further how Kantian themes come in
at pivotal moments in Cavells thought. Roth points out that, even if Cavell
is hesitant to assign the same significance to principles of reason as Kant
does, Kant and Cavell both agree that one cannot apply moral principles
without careful attention to contexts and particular ends. By looking at this
issue from different angles, Roth traces and clarifies the consequences of
Guyers claim that both Kants and Cavells perfectionisms first and foremost are concerned with the perfection of our own use of our freedom as
an ultimate aim for morality.
Pradeep Dhillon develops Guyers account of Cavellian and Kantian perfectionism, applying it to issues of global justice. Using the movie The Constant Gardener as an example, Dhillon shows how the sort of moral education
on display in Cavellian remarriage comedies can be extended beyond the
immediate interactions between spouses. By reference to Chittaposad Bhattacharyas drawings of the Bengal famine, she also discusses how Cavell
and Guyer can help us explore Kants demand to reclaim our own humanity

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by claiming a humanity for both a distant and immediate other. Drawing on
works by the philosopher Cora Diamond, she suggests how Cavells attention to the embodied character of human existence is important in this context, as it both deepens and transforms the Kantian conception of freedom.
Viktor Johanssons response raises three issues of clarification and criticism. First, Johansson criticizes Guyers suggestion that the perfectionist
aim to render oneself intelligible presupposes some additional goal beyond
intelligibility. Second, Johansson suggests that perfectionism is not only a
position on moral issues but also a way of imagining the transformation of
thought throughout the history of philosophy and human thinking. Extra
philosophical material becomes more than mere examples, as it can also be
seen as playing a crucial role in these transformations. Johansson ends by
suggesting how the first two issues have implications for how both Kant is
and Cavells philosophies are themselves forms of perfectionist education,
for their adult readers and in their implications for the education of children.
Richard Eldridge takes up Guyers suggestion that Kants and Cavells
philosophies involve a demand for continuous self-criticism and argues
that a closer look at what such self-criticism amounts to in their respective
work reveals significant differences between the two thinkers. According to
Eldridge, whereas Kant understands self-criticism as guided by an a priori
principle that is available to us as rational beings, Cavell conceives such criticism in more improvisatory terms and as always vulnerable to disappointment due to the never fully mastered demands and desires that form the
subject and her relations to others. Eldridge suggests that this Freudian outlook explains why Cavell often sounds very different from Kant, in letting
the personal and particular inflict the impersonal and vice versa. However,
Eldridges point is not that one of these two conceptions of self-criticism is
clearly preferable to the other. Instead, he concludes that there is room and
need for both and leaves open whether and how they can be reconciled.
While agreeing with Guyer that there are more affinities between Kant
and Cavell than is commonly recognized, Alice Crary argues that Guyer
underestimates the depth of difference between the moral outlooks of the
two thinkers. Like Eldridge, she emphasizes the distinctiveness of Cavells
conception of self-understanding and the nature of self-criticism and
self-perfection. At a general level, Kant and Cavell can be said to agree that
our cognitive contact with empirical reality involves the thought of connections to other representations of things, but Crary argues that Kants
and Cavells ways of spelling out that general conception are quite different. According to Crary, while Kant (and most Kantians) sees the concepts
and methods of science as cognitively privileged, Cavell insists that moral
reflection and self-criticism require entering into specific cultural or evaluative perspectivesperspectives that, despite their specificity, he treats
as having full cognitive legitimacy. Once this aspect of Cavells conception

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is held clearly in view, Crary continues, the distinction Guyer ascribes to
Cavell between the pursuit of intelligibility and the pursuit of freedom
Like Crary, Martin Gustafsson argues that Guyers distinction between
intelligibility and freedom misconstrues Cavells notion of moral perfectionism. According to Gustafsson, the sort of freedom involved in what Cavell
calls perfectionist invention and transformation is not of a sort that requires
that intelligibility has already been achieved. On the contrary, such invention and transformation are due to a lack of intelligibility, and they manifest
the freedom to search for what has not yet been understood. Gustafsson
ties this point to the need for a clear distinction between two incompatible senses in which the pursuit for perfection is never ending, arguing
that Guyer fails to keep the two apart. Finally, Gustafsson takes issue with
Guyers interpretation of Cavells notion of friendship, arguing, pace Guyer,
that Cavellian friendship does not presuppose intelligibility but is, in fact,
mostly needed when understanding is not yet present.
Timothy Gould explores the notion of unintelligibility in relation to Guyers paper and Cavells writings, emphasizing that our conception of moral
perfectionism will be impoverished unless we recognize that unintelligibility
takes many forms and that the content of Cavells thought, like Wittgensteins,
is always in the end to be found in the concrete examples that they investigate. Gould himself explores in some detail several examplesAristophanes
speech in the Symposium, Antigone, Othello, the movie The Awful Truth, Freudian psychoanalysis, and othersshowing the variety of unintelligibility and
the ways it can matter and, in consequence, the variety of what perfectionist
striving can amount to.
Paul Guyer rounds off this unique conversation with an extensive indepth response to the explorations, commentaries, and criticisms delivered
by his interlocutors.
The present volume has its background in an international conference on
Perfectionism and EducationKant and Cavell on Ethics and Aesthetics in
Society, held at van der Nootska Palatset, in Stockholm, on September 67,
2013. This conference was arranged by Klas Roth, Martin Gustafsson, and
Viktor Johansson and was financed by the Swedish Research Council.

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