Existenz Menu
An International Journal in Philosophy, Religion, Politics, and the Arts
ISSN 1932-1066

Volume 15, No.1, Spring 2020

Kant, Hegel, and Werner Herzog

Index and Editor's Introduction

The Analytic Method, the Synthetic Method, and the Idea of Philosophy: Kant on How to Read Kant
Courtney Morris | United States Military Academy, West Point

In several passages, Immanuel Kant advises his readers about how to approach his texts. In each one of them, Kant connects the text at hand with either the analytic or synthetic method. Understanding such methods contains thus the promise to illuminate how Kant thinks one should read him. Unfortunately, Kant makes differing claims about these methods, the most obvious being his claim that the Critique of Pure Reason is synthetic, which seems to be incompatible with his claim that philosophy cannot proceed synthetically. Additionally, Kant distinguishes the methods in a wide variety of ways, often at odds with his predecessors' distinctions. Furthermore, if any methods were Kantian, it would be the critical or the transcendental methods—not the analytic or synthetic ones. Here I examine Kant's various senses of the distinction between the analytic and synthetic methods in order to explain Kant's various comments about his texts. More importantly, I show that the second half of the Critique of Pure Reason, the "Doctrine of Method" (Methodenlehre), is considerably more important than it has been traditionally understood. Indeed, it points to the crucial upshot of Kant's critical project, namely, it calls for a significant rethinking of how to philosophize.

The author presents a version of this paper at YouTube.

Keywords: Kant's experimental method; Doctrine of Method; synthetic method; analytic method; critical method; transcendental arguments; scholastic idea of philosophy; cosmopolitan idea of philosophy.


Kantian Responsibility and the Self
Fritz J. McDonald | Oakland University

Philosophers have discussed the notion of the self or person in a variety of contexts, by way of considering when an individual is capable of responsibility, that is, when an individual is a moral agent. Philosophers have also investigated whether an individual is a moral patient: that is, the sort of being who is owed moral consideration. Reviewing conceptions of personhood and selfhood, I contend that there is no one sense of these notions that captures the relevant uses of these terms. Moral philosophers, including Kantians, will need to consider personhood, and, by extension, moral agency and moral patiency, not as a precisely delineated concept capable of definition in terms of obvious necessary and sufficient conditions, but rather as a Wittgensteinian family resemblance concept. To treat personhood in this way suggests that the conditions of responsibility must be understood in a nuanced fashion, as judgments of responsibility require insight into circumstances, not precise definitions.

Keywords: Frankfurt, Harry; Kant, Immanuel; person; self; responsibility; agency; ethics; freedom of the wil.


Responsibility and the Unity of Self: Variations on a Kantian Theme in Brandom and Korsgaard
Adam J. Graves | Metropolitan State University of Denver

The philosophical projects of Robert Brandom and Christine Korsgaard are not often associated with one another, even though both authors share a common interest in normativity and trace that interest back to a common source, namely, the work of Immanuel Kant. More remarkably still, both authors also appeal to the task-responsibility of self-integration (that is, the need to weed out incompatible commitments and/or desires) in their respective accounts of normativity. In this essay, I argue that this task-responsibility cannot on its own sufficiently account for normativity in the strong sense—in the sense that judgments are thought to be answerable to objects and actions are thought to be constrained by moral obligations. Nevertheless, I claim that combining elements of Brandom's pragmatist program with elements of Korsgaard's theory of practical identity allows one to offset gaps in their respective accounts and to develop a more satisfactory account of the nature and source of normativity.

Keywords: Kant, Immanuel; Brandom, Robert; Korsgaard, Christine; normativity; responsibility; selfhood; self-integration; pragmatism; identity; agency.


Précis of A Spirit of Trust
Robert B. Brandom | University of Pittsburgh

Robert Brandom presents a short summary of his book on Hegel's Phenomenology and responds to five commentators. Three increasingly committive idealist theses are distinguished, beginning with the unboundedness of the conceptual. Other important themes are Hegel's social account of discursive normativity as synthesized by reciprocal recognition, and his radically original notion of recollective rationality as structuring the historical dimension of discourse.

This Author meets Critics session is viewable at YouTube.

Keywords: Idealism; language; concepts; normativity; recognition; history; rationality.


Hegel, Brandom, and Semantic Descent: Comments on A Spirit of Trust by Robert B. Brandom (Harvard, 2019)
Mark V. Alznauer | Northwestern University

In A Spirit of Trust, Robert Brandom claims that the central problem of G. W. F. Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit is specifying the conditions under which ordinary concepts have conceptual content. This reading depends on an interpretative strategy that he calls semantic descent, a strategy that involves treating specifically philosophical concepts as expressing key features of the way one uses ordinary concepts. In this essay, I look at three alternative accounts of the relationship between ordinary and philosophical concepts in Hegel.

Keywords: German Idealism; conceptual content; concepts; inferentialism; holism.


"Was it for this?": Brandom, Hegel, Wordsworth, Žižek, and the Terror
Andrew Cutrofello | Loyola University Chicago

In this essay I compare Robert Brandom's and Slavoj Žižek's interpretations of G. W. F. Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit. I do so directly, in terms of what they say about Hegel, and indirectly, in terms of what they say about William Wordsworth's The Prelude. One aim of the essay is to assess Žižek's claim that Brandom fails to account for Hegel's conception of absolute freedom as revolutionary terror. Another is to show that Brandom's and Žižek's different ways of thinking about what it would mean, for Hegel, to successfully confess and forgive revolutionary terror amounts to a restaging of the Phenomenology's dialectic of confession and forgiveness.

The author presents a version of this paper at YouTube.

Keywords: Brandom, Robert; Hegel, Georg W. F.; Wordsworth, William; Žižek, Slavoj; absolute idealism; absolute freedom; French Revolution.


Brandom's Hegel—Between Conceptual Realism, Pragmatism, and Idealism
Pierre Keller | University of California, Riverside

Robert Brandom reconstructs G. W. F. Hegel's idealism in the Phenomenology of Spirit in terms of mediation and determinate negation as systematic functional-relational pragmatic-semantic relations of material and formal inclusion and exclusion. The paper fleshes out the relevance of Brandom's three-part account of idealism to such semantic-pragmatic relations of material dependence. The essay articulates and raises some fundamental questions about Brandom's distinction between conceptual realism, objective idealism, and conceptual idealism as a three-part account of Hegel's absolute idealism. The sense in which conceptual realism, objective idealism and conceptual idealism form a hierarchical structure for Brandom grounded in conceptual realism is developed and challenged. Brandom's distinction between the sense-dependence of the objective world on our pragmatic commitments and reference independence of the objective world is queried. This leads to questions about Brandom's pragmatism and his anchoring of pragmatism in a Spirit-independent conceptual realism. It is suggested that such Spirit-independent conceptual realism is refuted rather than affirmed by Hegel's Dionysian revel of truth and by the German idealist tradition.

Keywords: Brandom, Robert; Hegel, Georg W. F.; Kant, Immanuel; conceptual realism; modal realism; conceptual idealism; pragmatism; Dionysian revel.


Desire, Recognition, and Freedom in Brandom, A Spirit of Trust
John Russon | University of Guelph, Canada

The core of Robert Brandom's interpretation of Hegel in A Spirit of Trust is his detailed analysis of Hegel's dialectic of "recognition" (Anerkennung). I argue that, with this analysis, Brandom has effectively demonstrated the compelling character of Hegel's argument. However, I criticize Brandom's larger interpretation of Hegel for its failure to recognize the distinctive nature of what Hegel calls "the Freedom of Self-Consciousness." This, I argue, is closely aligned with the distinctive nature of reason (Vernunft), which is central to the experience of agency, but the weight of which is under-appreciated in Brandom's account of it.

Keywords: Brandom, Robert; Hegel, Georg W. F.; Kant, Immanuel; Phenomenology of Spirit; self-consciousness; reason; recognition; agency.


Truth and its Appearance: A Comment on Robert Brandom's A Spirit of Trust
Sebastian Stein | University of Heidelberg, Germany

Robert Brandom's interpretation of G. W. F. Hegel's project in the Phenomenology of Spirit is grounded in the notion of consciousness. This approach contradicts Hegel's claims with regard to the possibility-bound character of his idealist predecessors' consciousness-based philosophies and his commitment to the fundamentality of Geist. According to Hegel, only Geist's freedom-based individuality appropriately frames the relationship between universality and particulars and thus between consciousness and world and between different instances of consciousness. Against Brandom's reading, this entails that only the concept of Geist—rather than consciousness—is able to explain successful cognition, recognition, and rational political, religious, aesthetic, and philosophical activity.

Keywords:Brandom, Robert; Hegel, Georg W. F.; phenomenology; cognition; recognition; freedom; Geist.


Selfhood, Modernity, Romanticism, and Art: The Case of Werner Herzog
Richard Eldridge | University of Tennessee, Knoxville

I describe five major thematic ideas that are present in my book Werner Herzog––Filmmaker and Philosopher. These ideas connect my work with lines of thought in Romanticism and with the work of Karl Jaspers. I note that the argumentative core of my thought––independent of any work on Herzog––consists first of a view about selfhood as a status to be achieved by embodied human beings; I reject the claim that the self is any kind of object. Second, the achievement of this status, which involves finding satisfaction in one's agentive presences in one's activities, in one's relations to others, and in one's institutional settings (all within nature) is, as Sigmund Freud saw, all at once fraught, incompletable, and yet addressable. Industrial-commercial modernity both enables and inhibits the achievement of selfhood in specific ways, in making available both wider possibilities of social identity and new forms of alienation and mutual opacity. I describe how Herzog's work addresses this situation of the modern human subject in pursuit of selfhood, and I extend and develop my argument by replying to the insightful remarks of my critics.

This Author meets Critics session is viewable at YouTube.

Keywords: Herzog, Werner; Freud, Sigmund; Romanticism; selfhood; modernity; nihilism; art.


Making Philosophy Accessible: Werner Herzog's Filmmaking and the Issues of Nature, Selfhood, and History
Verena Kick | Georgetown University

Richard Eldridge's stimulating book outlines how Werner Herzog's films both visualize and grapple with abstract philosophical concepts. To this end, Herzog's films become interlocutors in Eldridge's analysis, which is less concerned with critiquing Herzog's sometimes staged scenes in his documentaries; instead, Eldridge perceives Herzog's works as visualizations of human experiences, concerning mainly the ideas of nature, selfhood, and history. This essay evaluates each of these different categories of human experience that Eldridge identifies as being the central issues in his three chapters. Some focal points such as corporeality, religion, and language, to be sure, could have formed bases for additional discussions in Eldridge's otherwise already rich juxtapositions of philosophical issues with key scenes in Herzog's feature films and documentaries.

Keywords: Herzog, Werner; Eldridge, Richard; nature; selfhood; history; corporeality; religion; language.


The Screening and Screenable Animal
Francey Russell | Columbia University

In this review I discuss two broad sets of issues in response to Richard Eldridge's Werner Herzog: Filmmaker and Philosopher. The first concerns the ontological continuity linking screened world and real world, and by implication the depth of human beings' relationships with screens and screened images. We see the screened world as continuous with our own world, and can also come to experience the real cinematically. The second issue is Eldridge's claim that Herzog's films are primarily interested in the quest for an authentic life. I offer a critique by engaging with Eldridge's own idea of Herzog's formal stylization in order to suggest that such stylization guides our reflection to dimensions of human life that do not have to do with humanist questions of authenticity and deep selfhood, but have rather to do with the aesthetic and formal dimensions of life, whereby human beings and the human body are put on equal formal footing with all other natural and material objects.

Keywords: Herzog, Werner; Eldridge, Richard; Cavell, Stanley; film-philosophy; ontology; self-knowledge; authenticity; cinematic form.


Werner Herzog Between Romanticism and Late Modernity
John M. Baker, Jr | The University of the Arts

Setting forth the sources and critical presuppositions underpinning Richard Eldridge's Werner Herzog: Filmmaker and Philosopher, this essay seeks to show how Eldridge's approach establishes the philosophical pertinence of Herzog's style and themes while also raising instructive questions about their scope and meaning. The essay addresses Eldridge's use of William Wordsworth and Walter Benjamin as aesthetic and philosophic precedents for Herzog's style while also laying out Eldridge's broader understanding of the relevance of a post-Romantic aesthetic, both to the films themselves and to the larger themes they engage with. The essay raises critical questions about the mediation of a post-Romantic aesthetic to the interpretation of Herzog's films and about the implied enlistment of the films as models for a critique of late modern culture.

Keywords: Wordsworth, William; Benjamin, Walter; Taylor, Charles; Lyotard, Jean-François; the sublime; temporality; ecstatic truth; history; Romanticism; epiphany.


Some Risks May Be Necessary
Brad Prager | University of Missouri

This essay offers an assessment of Richard Eldridge's study Werner Herzog: Filmmaker and Philosopher. As Werner Herzog's body of work includes a substantial amount of self-citation, this essay reflects on whether Eldridge and others should permit the entirety of Herzog's oeuvre as well as his extensive catalogue of remarks and commentaries to be viewed in this self-referential manner in order to substantiate their own interpretations of any particular Herzog work. Furthermore, this essay contends that approaches that foreground the whole body of work tend to hinder the analysis of individual films. It also examines the connections Eldridge draws between Herzog and Martin Heidegger, asking whether such interpretations are not required to reflect critically on Heidegger's neo-Romantic regressions, and, finally, it concludes with a proposal to adopt a wider view, namely, one that looks beyond Heideggerianism, in the interest of drawing real material and cultural conditions into consideration.

Keywords: Eldridge, Richard; Herzog, Werner; Heidegger, Martin; German film; film authorship; intentional fallacy; self-reference; neo-Romantic regression.


Werner Herzog's Ecstatic Truth
Katrina Mitcheson | University of the West of England, UK

In his stimulating discussion of Werner Herzog's work, Richard Eldridge emphasizes that Herzog's films are truth-disclosing. At the same time Eldridge acknowledges that Herzog makes clear the presence of the filmmaker and the process of filmmaking. In this essay, I explore further how the emphasis upon interpretation and perspective that one finds in Herzog's films can be reconciled with Herzog's notion of ecstatic truth. Eldridge's move to relate Herzog's work to Pierre Hadot's discussion of spiritual exercises is key to resolving this apparent tension, because it allows one to better understand the relationship between the subject and truth. I argue that an understanding of truth is operative in Herzog's films that is comparable to Friedrich Nietzsche's understanding of truth; in which the practice of truth involves a gradual breaking of habits and a purification of false beliefs which is ultimately transformative.

Keywords: Herzog, Werner; Eldridge, Richard; Hadot, Pierre; Nietzsche, Friedrich; ecstatic truth; spiritual exercises; conversion; perspective.


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