Volume 44, Issue 1, Spring 2014
Nothing to Know
The Epistemology of Moral Perfectionism in Adorno and Cavell
I argue that Theodor W. Adorno is best understood as a moral perfectionist thinker in the stripe of Stanley Cavell. This is significant because Adorno’s moral philosophy has not received serious interest from moral philosophers, and much of this has to do with difficulties in situating his thought. I argue that once Adorno is situated in this way, then, like Cavell, he offers an interesting moral perspective that will be of value to a variety of moral theorists. My argument proceeds in two broad steps: first, I show that Cavell and Adorno share a distinct epistemological orientation, one that centers around the impossibility of knowledge in certain situations, and trades on a Kantian and post-Kantian picture. Second, I show that their moral perfectionism fundamentally rests on such epistemology.