Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Homo Kantius: Sovereign Subject and Bare Thing

Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Homo Kantius: Sovereign Subject and Bare Thing

Article excerpt

One of the fundamental insights of Immanuel Kant's Copernican revolution is the discovery of an essentially legislative, law-giving aspect of not only our practical relationship to the world, but of our knowing relation to objects. Such legislative dimension, and the justification it requires, has recently been highlighted as requiring a paradoxical space of illegitimacy in Giorgio Agamben's account of the state of exception. In this essay I will argue that by extending Agamben's description of the paradoxes of sovereignty to Kant's Critique of Pure Reason, we are able to articulate a new understanding of the sovereignty of the transcendental subject. I do so by showing that there is a zone of indistinction between interiority and exteriority that grounds Kant's analytic in such a way that the paradox of sovereignty is at work at the two limits of the transcendental project: the transcendental unity of apperception and the thing in itself. These correlate concepts and the dualism they produce are not an evasion of those paradoxes and a flight into subjective sovereignty, but rather an explication of the state of exception upon which Kantian law is itself erected. I will argue that Kant's attempt to secure the legality of Reason's self-critique is only arrived at through a detour into a careful articulation of the paradoxes of the limits of law and the state of exception. In order to do so, I will first justify the extension of Agamben's analysis of law to Kant's first critique, and then turn to the way a paradoxical space of illegitimacy opens up respectively in Kant's account of the transcendental unity of apperception and thing in itself. I conclude by suggesting that Kant's project of self-legislation or self-grounding is an attentive response to such paradoxical and difficult zones of simultaneous inclusion and exclusion. This conclusion opens up a third option of interpreting sovereign law in Kant against the dominant though contradictory criticisms of Kant, namely, that the Kantian subject is not sovereign enough and that it is too sovereign and despotic.

Quaestio Juris

What right (quid juris) could one possibly have in extending the juridical concepts of sovereignty and the state of exception to the analytic of Kant's Critique of Pure Reason! Of course, Agamben himself claims that these concepts are not merely juridical, but extend to the very being of politics and its relation to Ufe.1 But it is one thing to extend them to political ontology, and yet another to a text that is primarily about the relationship between rational finite cognition and its objects of knowledge. One possible justification might be found in the fact that the main sources of Agamben's analysis, namely, Carl Schmitt's Political Theology and Walter Benjamin's "Critique of Violence," are themselves engaged with and against Neo-Kantian interpretations of the same concepts. Beyond the fact that Benjamin's text cites Hermann Cohen's work on the ethics of pure will,2 it is also written a few years after he claimed that "the central task of the coming philosophy will be to take the deepest intimations it draws from our times and our expectation of a great future, and turn them into knowledge by relating them to the Kantian system."3 Alternatively, Schmitt's text is an attack on Hans Kelsen's Kantian attempt to base all legal points of ascription on one fundamental Grundnorm.4 These contacts with Neo-Kantianism may well help explain why certain Kantian themes surreptitiously appear in Agamben's analysis, but do they justify their extension to the supposed epistemological problems of the first Critique? Since we do not want to justify this extension by appealing to facts and possibly mistaking the quid facti for the quid juris, the legitimacy must rest on Kant's own text.

That the Critique of Pure Reason is teeming with juridical metaphors can hardly be overlooked. In the preface, Kant calls the book "a tribunal which will assure to reason its lawful claims. …

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