2/20 Andy Werner presents on Agamben and McDowell


¬†Giorgio Agamben’s writings are difficult to understand. They are particularly difficult for those, like myself, who approach them with a desire to be able to communicate what they say to philosophers of a more analytic stripe. Coming at his writings from that angle, I have found it illuminating to compare his position to that of John McDowell’s. I will argue that a serious consideration of Agamben’s position on ethics reveals that McDowell’s opposition to highest-common factor views of our cognitive faculties does not suffice to vindicate his view of our cognitive faculties. McDowell argues that an understanding of our cognitive faculties as the faculties of one who is both rational and an animal can only make sense if we understand our rationality to be “transformative” of our animality. Agamben agrees. Agamben (but not McDowell) claims that a proper understanding of this transformation requires that what it is to be human is to be contingently rational – that is, Agamben denies that there is a conceptual priority to being actually rational relative to being potentially rational. I do not know how to vindicate Agamben’s position on this issue; nor do I know how to vindicate the claim (which is plausibly McDowell’s) that being actually rational has conceptual priority.

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