Volume 17, Issue 1, Spring 2013
Normativity and Freedom
The Morality of Irony
Hegel and Modernity
This essay reconsiders the role of irony in the Hegelian project of developing a theory of modern ethical life. It recognizes in Socratic irony the traces of an alternative concept of morality that leads both to an acknowledgement of Hegel’s convincing critique of the Kantian moral principle and to a rejection of Hegel’s misconception of Socratic and Romantic irony. Arguing against Hegel that irony cannot be reduced to a form of alienation from the normative dimension of ethical life as a whole, but should instead be understood as a necessary component of a dynamic mediation between subjective freedom and ethical universality, the author further claims that irony, thus conceived, takes on the productive function that it should actually have had within the Hegelian system. That is, irony
is a phenomenon that, from the standpoint of morality, refers us to a form of ethical life in which subjective freedom and difference are respected.