Thursday, August 23, 2007

on freedom

The problem dogs Western philosophy. Kant's moral philosophy for example rests on an antinomy between the laws of nature on the one hand, and freedom as the ability to instigate an action which is not caused by them, even though the act itself and its consequences must abide by those laws as well as their own motivation. Thus Kant can argue that freedom is rooted in causality; that both abject obedience to nature and absolute freedom would produce chaos; and that order depends on the restraining power of freedom over the blind determination of physics. Commenting on these antinomies in his lecture series of 1961 (2000: 71), Adorno notes that the resulting rigour of the categorical imperative derives from Kant's embrace of freedom, so defined, to the exclusion of all other contenders for the title of 'the good'; and that as a result, perhaps, Kant's reason is condemned to being 'reasonable', to the exclusion of contradiction. So much so, indeed, that Arendt could argue, with reference to the categorical imperative, that it is 'as though the one and the same imperative , "Thou shalt not contradict yourself" is axiomatic for logic and ethics' (Arendt 2003: 153). For Kant natural causes will always be 'subaltern', says Adorno, which is a contradiction firstly because both causality and freedom are 'unmoved movers', that is absolutes, despite the fact that natural causes are supposedly subaltern, and yet freedom is obliged nonetheless to obey them. Moreover, as Adorno observes, Kant may be right to see the infinite regress of causes as an absurdity; but diminishing each natural cause to subalternity doesn't leave enough causation to cause everything. In Marx, we might feel constrained to add, the proletariat's historical destiny acts like a law of nature, and one with enough causality to produce the social; but that it is the freedom of the bourgeoisie that paradoxically stops its from effecting its goals. I start with this problem of freedom because it is far from clear that freedom is a Good in the moral sense, and that it may be neither source nor goal of the aesthetic. In fact, to the contrary, I take it as axiomatic that communication, which I take to be the central issue at stake in the relations between aesthetics and power, is both subject to the laws of nature and is in many respects a law of nature itself.

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