- The Persistence of Subjectivity: On the Kantian Aftermath, and: German Philosophy 1760–1860: The Legacy of Idealism
Robert Pippin has assembled an insightful and provocative collection of essays titled, The Persistence of Subjectivity: On the Kantian Aftermath. Pippin is a well-known and distinguished scholar of German Idealism, especially in regard to Hegel and Kant. He knows well the philosophizing of Fichte and Schelling that prepared the way for Hegel's taking up the problems formulated by Kant. [End Page 396] Pippin extended the reach of his formulation of the problems, and solutions, of German Idealism by his extensive writings on Modernism in his books Idealism as Modernism: Hegelian Variations (1997) and Modernism as a Philosophical Problem: On the Dissatisfactions of European High Culture (1999). Still more recently Pippin published Henry James and Modern Moral Life (2000), with the emphasis, again, on the peculiar problem of the modern, and modernist attempt to fashion the forms in which a genuinely free human life might give rise to itself. The present collection consists of a substantive Introduction on "Bourgeois Philosophy" and the problem of subjectivity, which nicely gathers together the subsequent eight essays on Heidegger, Gadamer, Adorno, Strauss, Arendt, Manfred Frank, John McDowell, and Proust. Less successful in this gathering is the addition of three occasional essays on the topics of medical ethics, civility, and the relation of literature to law. Pippin is instead at his best in the analysis and exposition of the works of individual philosophers and writers.
Pippin believes that we continue to inhabit the world of modernity made possible and, more importantly, made difficult by Kant's posing of the unavoidable task of becoming a person, and indeed a person alongside, in solidarity with, as well as opposed to, other persons. The Kantian aftermath sampled in the present collection of essays is therefore best ranged as a series of answers to, or at least probes toward, the following: "The question of the right way to understand the relation between independence and dependence will emerge as one of the most significant complexities in the modern aspiration to a free life" (p. 4). Pippin would readily acknowledge, however, that his approach might more generally and popularly be seen as a rear-guard action against the aftermath of Hegelian philosophy: "The best brief characterization of much of the tone of post-Hegelian European thought and culture is that it is comprised of a profound suspicion about the basic philosophical claim of 'bourgeois' philosophy, the notion central to the self-understanding and legitimation of the bourgeois form of life: the free, rational, independent, reflective, self-determining subject" (p. 5).
For Pippin, the moment we now occupy remains Kantian-Hegelian, and even though this moment might stretch to become Proustian and Jamesian, it nonetheless persists primarily—however beset by inherent contradictions—as a unitary, unhistorical, and self-consciousness-seeking one. And though one can well imagine Pippin conceding to Marx's claim that the category of the possibility of the human individual is the product of historical and social developments, it is more difficult to imagine Pippin conceiving this possibility as anything but the final form of human becoming. Where Marx has the human individual not only as a real world-historical achievement, but also, and perhaps still more importantly in modern life, as a potential and substantial impediment to further human development, Pippin regards the individual as an achievement still to be won. Hence for Pippin the "aftermath" remains provocatively Kantian while for Marx and others it is but the warm bath of modernism. [End Page 397]
It is just this premise in regards to the continuation of the Kantian-Hegelian moment that would seem to warrant Pippin's treatments of the philosophers and novelists of the twentieth century. (Pippin might then be compared favorably to Clement Greenberg, another proponent of the continuing centrality of Kant to the aesthetic projects of modernism. For Pippin as for Greenberg it...