Wesleyan University

Professor Ulrich Plass: Kant after Auschwitz, or, The Task of Thinking According to Arendt and Adorno


My lecture does not argue, as the title might perhaps imply, that there is a direct line from Kant to Auschwitz. Against the temptation to engage in teleology, I consult with two critical attempts to retrieve Kant's moral philosophy by reading it against the grain: Hannah Arendt and Theodor Adorno both attack Kant's formalism yet at the same time retain a rather ambivalent stance toward it. Why will they not let go of Kant's deontological ethics with its Christian and transcendental-idealist baggage? How do we make sense of the lingering Kantian spirit in Arendt's and Adorno's respective endeavors to understand and legitimate the task of thinking after Auschwitz? These are the broad questions guiding my more detailed textual exegesis with its focus on significant Kantian moments in Arendt's Eichmann in Jerusalem and "Some Questions of Moral Philosophy" as well as Adorno's Negative Dialectics and "Education after Auschwitz."

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