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The Journal of Aesthetic Education, Volume 48, Number 3, Fall 2014,

pp. 99-110 (Article)
DOI: 10.1353/jae.2014.0019

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What is Cavellian Perfectionism?

Martin Gustafsson

If calculation and judgment are to answer the question Which way?, perfectionist thinking is a response to the ways being lost.
Stanley Cavell, Conditions Handsome and Unhandsome, 55

1. Introduction
In his thought-provoking exploration of Cavellian perfectionismwhich he
sees as identical with what Cavell himself prefers to call Emersonian perfectionismPaul Guyer quotes the following passage from Cities of Words:
Emersons writing, in demonstrating our lack of given means of making ourselves intelligible (to ourselves, to others), details the difficulties in the way of possessing those means, and demonstrates that they
are at hand. This thought, implying our need of invention and transformation, expresses two dominating themes of perfectionism.1
Guyer makes the following comment:
This remark might suggest that we need invention and transformation
in order to make ourselves intelligible, but I think Cavells larger point
is the converse, that we need to make ourselves intelligible in order
to realize our potential for invention and transformation and that the
latterin other words, the exercise of our freedomis the substantive
goal of moral perfectionism. (Examples of Perfectionism, 9)
In what follows, I am going to defend the reading that Guyer is rejecting in
this comment. That is, I am going to argue that, in the Cities of Words passage
Martin Gustafsson is a professor of philosophy at the Department of Philosophy, bo
Akademi University, Finland. His publications on Cavell include Perfect Pitch and
Austinian Examples: Cavell, McDowell, Wittgenstein, and the Philosophical Significance of Ordinary Language (Inquiry, 2005), and Familiar Words in Unfamiliar
Surroundings: Davidsons Malapropisms, Cavells Projections (International Journal
of Philosophical Studies, 2011). Together with Richard Srli, he is the editor of The Philosophy of J. L. Austin (2011).
Journal of Aesthetic Education, Vol. 48, No. 3, Fall 2014
2014 Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois

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and elsewhere in Cavells writings, perfectionist invention or transformation figures precisely as what we need to go through so as to make ourselves
intelligible anew and is not to be thought of in terms of a kind of freedom
whose exercise presupposes that intelligibility has already been achieved.
Thus, I am also going to reject Guyers notion that Cavell is working with a
distinction between (1) intelligibility as a merely necessary or formal or epistemic requirement for perfectionist striving and (2) freedom as the substantive aim in self-perfection. It will also turn out, as a corollary of my reading,
that, for Cavell, perfectionist striving for intelligibility is not a mere prelude
or means to substantively moral action but is a sort of striving that is already
of genuine moral significance.

2. Transformation, Freedom, and Crisis

The idea that making oneself intelligible to oneself and to others is a merely
necessary condition for perfectionist invention and transformation is essential to Guyers alignment of Cavellian and Kantian perfectionism. Here is a
relevant passage:
[F]or Kant, as for Cavell, intelligibility to oneself is not the end of duty
but its beginning, its necessary condition. To this requirement, Kant
also adds that of conscience, one of his explications of which is that,
through his conscience, one constrained by reason sees himself constrained to carry on the business of a human being with himself
on as at the bidding of another person. That is, one has to be able
to make ones own actions intelligible not only to oneself but also to
others, or to an otheran imagined supreme being, an imagined human being, an actual human being. A necessary condition of acting
freely is understanding what it is that one is trying to do, and a necessary condition of treating the freedom of others as an end in itself is
being willing to allow them to understand what one is trying to do.
... The requirement of self- and mutual intelligibility is as much a part
of Kants ethics as it is of Cavells. (Examples of Perfectionism, 15;
note omitted)
From the two Guyer passages that I have quoted, it is clear that he thinks
of perfectionist invention and transformation in terms of the exercise of
freedom and of such freedom as something that requires understanding
what it is that one is trying to do. According to this picture, invention and
transformation are aimed at a well-understood end and, therefore, do not
themselves involve but are rather preceded by a process where that end gets
clearly identified. So, the envisaged perfectionist endeavor is described as a
two-step procedure: first, the aim is made intelligible to oneself and to others, and thenonly once such intelligibility has been achievedtransformation and invention qua genuinely free action enter the stage.2

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What is Cavellian Perfectionism101

I do not think this is Cavells picture. On the contrary, I am going to argue
that what he calls perfectionist invention and transformation are modes of
change where we have not yet made our goal intelligible. In other words,
invention and transformation involve striving for a better world and a better self without being entirely clear on what such a better world or better
self might be. The appeal of a better world and a better self is like the appeal Cavell associates with Thoreaus Walden, which, he says, presents an
attraction to its reader to find a Walden by not knowing in advance where
it is and what it looks like.3 This is not to deny that such invention and
transformation are exercises of freedom. Rather, it is to say that the freedom
they manifestthe kind of freedom on which Cavell focuses in his discussions of perfectionismis a matter of resisting conformity and complacent
passivity by allowing yourself to embark on a path without knowing where
it leads.4 After all, a path with a known endpoint is a path already drawn on
an agreed-upon map, and following such a path, therefore, cannot constitute
the sort of radical departure from conformity that Cavell associates with
perfectionist thought. The perfectionist striving for a better world and a better self is not simply an attempt to leave home and go to some exotic but already identified place where people do not usually go. Rather, it starts from
a sense of being lost and involves the exploration of genuinely unknown
What are my reasons for ascribing such a conception to Cavell? To begin
with, it seems to me that the Cities of Words passage quoted in the first section
of this paper itself lends more support to my reading than to Guyers. Another point is that Cavells very choice of wordsinvention, transformationsuggests that the sort of change at issue is different from what Guyer
thinks of as the exercise of freedom. More substantively, it is important that
Cavell consistently describes perfectionist invention and transformation in
terms of responses to situations where our lives, our senses of ourselves
and of what, and whom, we are prepared to consent to, are at stake (Cities
of Words, 39). These situations are crises of perplexity and confusion, rather
than situations where we need to make decisions between clearly perceived
alternatives or judge whether a given line of action is in line with our duties:
This is the aim of moral perfectionism, not to assess pluses and minuses of advantage [as in Utilitarianism], nor to assess whether the
act is recommendable universally [as in Kantianism], but yet to see
to what those two standard theories wish to accomplish, namely that
the one in question make himself intelligible, to others and to himself.
Perfectionism concentrates on this moment. (Cavell, Cities of Words, 42;
italics added)
I think this passage makes it clear that free action in Guyers sense cannot
be the crucial element in Cavellian perfectionism and that Cavell does not

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think of the achievement of intelligibility as merely a prelude to or a necessary condition for some more substantive goal. In fact, if my reading is
correct, unintelligibility is a necessary condition for Cavellian invention and
transformationfor such invention and transformation are responses to a
situation in which one senses the need for a better self and a better world
but is at the same time muddled about how the world and oneself need to
change in order to become better.
Now, this may seem like mere mystery mongering. How can a striving be
a genuine striving at all if the aim is not settled in advance and if there are
no given standards against which success can be measured? How can a goal
be a goal if it is clearly identified only when it is reached? In what remains of
this response, I shall try to further clarify and justify my reading by looking
closer at two central features of Cavellian perfectionism. The first is Cavells
insistence that a viable perfectionism needs to accept human finitudea
kind of acceptance he associates with Wittgensteins effort to return words
from their metaphysical to their everyday use (Cities of Words, 4). The second
feature is the role and importance of friendship in the perfectionist endeavor.
These two features of perfectionism are also discussed by Guyer, and I hope
that the nature and grounds for my disagreement with his reading of Cavell
will become clearer as my investigation of these matters goes along.

3. Perfection and Finitude

Cavells insistence that a viable perfectionism needs to accept finitude gives
rise to worries about the coherence of the perfectionist endeavor. How can
the striving for perfection and the acceptance of finitude be reconciled?
What can remain of the dissatisfaction inherent in perfectionism once we
wholeheartedly embrace the Wittgensteinian return to everyday language
and life?
A beginning of an answer to such worries is to say, with Cavell, that what
is needed is a perfectionism that specifically sets itself against any idea of
ultimate perfection (Cities of Words, 3). This is a recognizably Emersonian
moment in Cavells discussion, as Cavell himself points out. The question,
of course, is what it means. In what sense can perfectionism set itself against
any idea of ultimate perfection and yet remain perfectionist?
Guyer has many interesting things to say on this topic. As far as I can see,
his conception of what he calls the imperfectionism that is part of Cavellian perfectionism involves two different strands (Examples of Perfectionism, 7). He tends to treat these two strands as if they were, if not identical,
then at least nicely compatible and mutually complementary. Or, perhaps he
sees the difference between them as largely terminological. In this section,
I shall argue that the two strands, in fact, need to be sharply distinguished
and that one of them is mistaken as an account of the structure of Cavellian

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What is Cavellian Perfectionism103

perfectionism. I hope my discussion will make it easier to understand the
objections I have sketched in section 2.
The first time Guyer brings up the issue of how to understand the imperfectionism of Cavellian perfectionism, he treats it in terms of the distinction between the real and the ideal, arguing that accepting human finitude
means accepting that the goal toward which we are striving can never be
completely achieved. In Guyers words, the imperfectionism amounts to
the recognition that we can progress toward our ideal but never fully attain
it (Examples of Perfectionism, 7). This may sound harmless enough, but
later formulations suggest that this notion of a never-ending endeavor is
conceived in a way that is not entirely innocuous. Consider the final paragraph of Guyers paper, where he sums up his stance as follows:
Cavell has located the core of his Emersonian perfectionism in the
possibility of an ever greater, though never greatest, exercise of our
own freedom; and Kant too, I have argued, finds the essential end of
human beings in the greatest possible use of freedom, though at the
same time he also recognizes that this is something we at best achieve
asymptotically rather than completely, that the greatest use of human
freedom possible for human beings is not the greatest use of freedom
possible tout court. (ibid., 24)
Let me call the sort of conception that is suggested here the asymptotic conception of the imperfectionism of perfectionism. The terms asymptote and
asymptotically are borrowed from mathematics, of course, where they
make clear and precise sense. Applied to cases relevant to moral perfectionism, however, these terms are much less clear. For example, what is it supposed to mean to say that my marriage is approaching the ideal marriage
asymptotically? The worry I want to focus on is not primarily about how
to interpret quantitative notions qualitativelyhow to cash out the notion
of a decreasing distance between my marriage and the ideal marriage,
for example. Rather, I want to bring attention to what I take to be an even
more fundamental difficulty in the proposed transfer of asymptote from
its original use in mathematics to its application in cases relevant to moral
The difficulty has to do with the fact that it is absolutely crucial to an
asymptote in mathematics that it is precisely determined beforehand. It
would make no sense at all to say that a curve approaches some line asymptotically, unless we can give a precise, independent specification of
where in our coordinate system that line is situated. By contrast, and as
I have already argued above, I take it that a central element in Cavells
perfectionisman element that he inherits from Emersonis that moral
perfectionism should not be conceived in terms of the striving for such
a predetermined, independently specified goal. Rather, what perfection

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amounts to in a particular case is something we will have to get clear about
as we go along: as Emerson famously puts it in Self Reliance, No man yet
knows what it is, nor can, till that person has exhibited it.5 This, it seems to
me, makes the metaphor of the asymptote fundamentally misleading if we
want to understand what Cavellian perfectionism amounts to.
But then, what is it to say that the Cavellian perfectionist is striving for
something that cannot in any asymptotic sense be identified beforehand?
To get clearer about this, let us have a look at the second strand in Guyers
attempt to understand the imperfectionism in Cavells perfectionism. This
second strand comes to the fore in Guyers thoughtful and sensitive remarks
on why the topic of remarriage is such a central theme for Cavell. According
to Guyer, remarriage
is an emblem of one of the most fundamental ideas of [Cavells]
perfectionism: namely, that the attainment of self-knowledge and,
through self-knowledge, of the freedom for self-invention and selftransformation is never completed in a single moment, like an initial
wedding ceremony, or indeed ever completed at all, but is an ongoing,
life-long commitment. (Examples of Perfectionism, 11)
And again:
All marriage is really remarriage because it requires a continual process of trying to make oneself intelligible to oneself and ones spouse,
and not just a single renewal of vows in middle age ... , but a constant
process of bonding ... , a continuing effort at maintaining the friendship, the partnership that is marriage while each partner continues his
or her own self-invention, til death do them part, or they give up on
the marriage. And in this regard, marriage is exemplary of free action
in general. (ibid., 11)
Again, this is very sensitive to what I agree is an absolutely crucial element
in Cavells notion of perfectionism. But I also think that this element, if properly thought through, can be seen to stand in fundamental conflict with any
notion of the perfectionist endeavor as a matter of asymptotically getting
closer and closer but never fully attaining a certain ideal. Let me try to explain why.
I have already suggested that there is something slightly ludicrous about
saying that a certain marriage is approaching the ideal marriage asymptotically. Let me now try to spell out this suggestion in some more detail,
taking my departure from the Guyer passages just quoted. To begin with,
Guyer emphasizes the ongoing effort involved in marriage: the striving for
perfection here is not a matter of striving toward a certain state the achievement of which would mark the perfection of the relation. Contrast this with
a case where the asymptotic picture seems to fitsay, a case involving scientific idealization. For example, consider a case where our ideal is a com-

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What is Cavellian Perfectionism105

pletely frictionless surface. Suppose we do our best to make a certain concrete, empirically given surface come as close as possible to that ideal, while
being aware that the ideal can never be fully attained. This example does
not exhibit the sort of temporality that Guyer is talking about in the case of
remarriage. Even if the surface can never be made completely frictionless,
it is nonetheless clear that the striving for such an ideal state is precisely
a striving for an ideal state. Even if the process, the striving, has a sort of
never-ending dynamics, this never-ending character is entirely due to the
fact that the end state is not fully achievable: our concretely given surface
will always have some friction. But if it were possible to reach the goal, then
reaching the goal would mark the end of the endeavor.
By contrast, in the case of marriage and remarriage, the never-ending
character is due to the goal itselffor the goal in this case just is not a state
(and, thus, not a goal in the same sense). An ideal marriage, if realized,
would have to involve as much of a continuous striving by the two partners
as any other marriage. Indeed, their mutual engagement in such an ongoing
effort is certainly crucial to what we want to mean by an ideal marriage. So,
the dynamics in this case is completely different from the dynamics in an
asymptotic case: here the ideal situation is not one in which the effort can
and will cease but one in which the effort will have to continue. If heaven is a
place beyond time and effort, no marriage is made therenot even the ideal
Attempts to give positive general descriptions of what an ideal marriage
is like may serve to hide this point. Consider Kants claim, as rendered by
Guyer, that, in marriage, at least in a genuine marriage with all its give
and take, one is not merely treating ones spouse as a genuinely free will
rather than a mere means for pleasure, but that in so doing one also treats
oneself as a genuinely free will and not as a mere means for pleasure (Examples of Perfectionism, 16). To the extent that this is a correct description
of what a genuine marriage is, the key notionstreating ones spouse as
a genuinely free will rather than a mere means for pleasure, treating oneself as a genuinely free will rather than a mere means for pleasuremust
themselves be understood as notions the precise sense of which remains to
be settled in each case. Whereas a frictionless surface is just a frictionless surface, well defined as such independently of any attempt to minimize friction
in the real world, these notions are challenges rather than already defined
concepts. Consequently, they in no way relieve us from the perfectionist
task of making sense of what we are striving toward. From Cavells point
of view, then, it is a mistake to think of these Kantian descriptions as giving
some sort of genuinely positive substance to our conception of a genuine
marriage, thus making our striving for it more asymptotic in character.
Each married couple must discover for themselves what it means for them,
in their marriage, to treat one another as a genuinely free will rather than

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a mere means for pleasure. Different marriages may give enormously different concrete contents to this phrase, and the content given may also vary
over time with regard to one and the same marriage.
This observation fosters my suspicion of Guyers distinction between the
formal or epistemic aim of Cavellian perfectionismthat of making
oneself intelligibleand the so-called substantive aim, the exercise of ones
freedom. I do not think Cavell would want to say that the striving to make
oneself intelligible and the striving to exercise ones freedomin the sense
relevant herecan be thus distinguished, even notionally. From the sort of
perfectionist viewpoint he is exploring, there is no more substance to the
relevant notion of freedom than to the notion of intelligibility: to the extent
that making oneself intelligible and exercising ones freedom are central to
the perfectionist endeavor, they are equal and inseparable aspects whose
precise content in the particular case will have to be determined in the striving for perfection. To understand what it is to exercise ones freedom within
this particular marriage is part of what it is to make oneself intelligible to
oneself and to ones partner. The notion of freedom brings no special content
to the particular striving for perfection: the content of the endeavor always
remains to be given by the striving itself.
I want to relate this to another tension I find in Guyers discussion,
namely, his different attitudes to the idea that perfection is attainable. The
asymptotic conception clearly suggests that perfection is not attainable: we
can approach it, perhaps as closely as we might wish, but there will always
remain a distance between the real and the ideal. However, Guyer also emphasizes that what he conceives of as the Kantian and Cavellian goal of the
perfectionist strivingthe exercise of freedom, the freedom to be moral
is possible to achieve and that, to fulfill any duties, whether to oneself or
others ... one must not hold oneself to a standard of perfection that is unattainable for human beings (Examples of Perfectionism, 1415). On this
sort of picture, then, the point of perfectionism is not that perfection is, as
it were, constantly beyond our reach. It is, rather, that reaching perfection
is not something we do once and for all, but something we must strive to
achieve again and again (sometimes we succeed in this endeavor, sometimesperhaps very oftennot).
I think it is only the second, nonasymptotic conception of the attainability
of perfection that fits Cavellian perfectionism. So, according to Cavell, the
point about perfection is not that it refers to some ideal and unattainable
state of affairs: the state of affairs of the ideal marriage, for example. If
so, perfectionism would indeed be unreasonably demanding, asking people to strive toward a level of perfection that is, in principle, impossible to
reach. Instead, the relevant point about unattainability is only the one I
have already made: Perfection is precisely not a matter of striving toward
some perfect state or reaching some level of perfection. In any marriage,

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What is Cavellian Perfectionism107

there may well be moments or longer periods that are as perfect as you may
wishCavell would not want to deny this. Rather, his point is that such moments or periods in no way relieve the partners from the burden of keeping
their marriage going. This ongoing effort, with its potential for both moments of perfection and moments of failure, is not a fantasy conjured up by
some overly demanding philosophy of perfectionism, but familiar to any
spouse: it is part of marriage qua marriage.

4. Examplars and Friendship

The points I have just made are connected with the role of examples in Cavellian perfectionism. As we have already seen, general descriptions of what
perfection amounts to tend to foster an asymptotic conception of the perfectionist endeavora picture according to which this endeavor constitutes a
striving toward an already well-defined goal, conceived as a state or level
of perfection. By contrast, the use of concrete examples, serving as exemplars
of perfectionist striving, goes against this asymptotic picture and makes it
possible for us to conceive of the perfectionist endeavor along quite different lines.
For a marriage to be exemplary is not for it to be ideal as opposed to
real. Any exemplar, be it a marriage in real life or one in a movie or a play
or a novel, is and has to be in the relevant sense real in order to function as
an exemplar at all. That is, it has to involve the concrete reality of married
life, with all its give and take as Guyer puts it (Examples of Perfectionism, 16). So, there is no question here of the exemplar being a realization
of some goal that is unrealizable in real life. On the contrary, anything that
is realized in the exemplar must also be realizable in a real-life marriage, if
the exemplar is going to function as an exemplar at all. An exemplar in the
sense relevant here is an actual particular, not an idealized generality, and it
is only as such an actual particular that it can play the sort of role it is meant
to play as a model of perfection.
The fact that the example itself is a concrete particular rather than an idealized generality means that having it as a model is not at all like following
a rule. To have something particular as a model, to treat it as exemplary, is to
take on a challenge: it is to consider how that example should matter to me,
in my particular situation, which might look quite different from the context
in which the exemplary case is itself originally situated. There are no instructions for how to meet such a challenge: it is by necessity a matter of seeing
analogies and disanalogies, and of taking responsibility for ones own use of
the exemplar, the role one gives it in ones own life. If, say, Bringing up Baby
can offer me an exemplar of remarriage, it is not because the couple there
has certain ideal characteristics that somehow make their relation inherently
exemplary. Rather, it is up to me to see them as exemplary and to decide how

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their example matters in my own life (which is, of course, in many ways
quite different from theirs).
At the same time, it is important to Cavells conception that an exemplar transgresses my own present situation. The exemplar can function as
an exemplar of perfection only because it is transcendental with respect to
ones given subject position as defined by society (Cities of Words, 15455).
The crisis that gives rise to perfectionist longing and thought is the crisis of
someone who feels stopped or lost in his life, as if unfinished or paralyzed,
who is awaiting some form of omen or signal or experience that will free him
or show him a fate beyond the stance he has achieved in the world (ibid.,
389). That is why perfectionism requires the guidance or inspiration of an
other, where such guidance or inspiration does not amount to a demand
for imitation or mimicry (ibid., 209). Rather, as I said above, the relevant sort
of guidance counts on my own imaginative participation, whereby I make
sense of the exemplar as something that shows what it would be for me to
become my own true self.
This is why friendship is essential to the perfectionist endeavorfor a
friend, as Cavell uses the term, is precisely someone who can provide this
sort of help in a crisis of the kind I have described. In the Cities of Words
passage that I quoted at the beginning of section 1, Cavell mentions two
dominating themes of perfectionism, but I cut the passage before those two
themes were identified. The first theme is that the human self ... is always becoming, as on a journey, always partially in a further state (Cities of
Words, 26). The second theme is friendship. I shall now explore this second
theme a little further, once again in relation to Guyers discussion. Here is
what Guyer says about friendship:
[H]ere too I think we should think more in terms of a necessary rather than sufficient condition: intelligibility to self and others is what
makes friendship possible, but friendship, including that between a
man and a woman who have discovered the possibility of their (re)
marriage in the possibility of their genuine friendship, is itself a necessary condition for the self-invention and self-transformation of each.
Or at least self-invention and self-transformation are the products of
friendship as well as the conditions of the possibility of friendship.
But, in any case, friendship, like intelligibility, is only a formal rather
than substantive goal of morality: there is friendship among thieves,
after all, and not every friendship is morally significant, let alone the
aim of morality. Only that friendship that allows for as well as perhaps
depends on self-invention and self-transformation is morally significant friendship. (Examples of Perfectionism, 9)
There are two claims here that I would like to question. First, there is the
claim that intelligibility to self and others is what makes friendship possible. As I understand Cavells notion of friendship, this is not true. In fact,

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What is Cavellian Perfectionism109

I most need a friend, in the Cavellian sense, when I have not yet managed
to make myself intelligible (to my self and to others). A friend is someone
who is willing to listen to my own inarticulate expressions of perfectionist
longing and help me toward making sense of them. Indeed, that is precisely
why I need the friend as an exemplar (cf. Conditions Handsome and Unhandsome, 67). By contrast, someone who is unwilling to listen to such inarticulate talksomeone who is prepared to lend me his ear only if what I say is
already intelligibleis precisely not my friend in that sense of the word. To
such a person, I have no special relationshiphe is just a conformist member of society and of no help if what is at stake is my perfectionist longing
for transformation.
The second claim Guyer makes in the passage above, and with which
I would like to take issue, is that friendship, like intelligibility, is only a
formal rather than substantive goal of morality: there is friendship among
thieves, after all, and not every friendship is morally significant, let alone
the aim of morality. Again, I find the notion of friendship used here unCavellian. As I have already argued, a friend, in Cavells sense, is someone
who serves as an exemplar and, in this sense, helps you attain your better
self. By contrast, I suppose the friendship among thieves that Guyer is
talking about is a kind of relation where no such help is given, but where,
on the contrary, the two friends keep each other down by reinforcing each
others attachment to the bad life they are living. Clearly, this would not be
an example of friendship in the Cavellian sense. Not that I want to deny
that Cavellian friendship among thieves is possiblecertainly, two thieves
may do their best to help each other attain their better selves, even if they
frequently fail and relapse into depravity. However, this cannot be the sort
of case Guyer has in mind since, plainly, it is a case where friendship is morally significant and valuable.

5. Conclusion
In this response, I have criticized the picture of Cavellian perfectionism drawn
by Guyer. According to Guyers picture, (1) intelligibility is a necessary condition for friendship, (2) intelligibility and friendship are only formal goals of
moral perfectionism, and (3) the realization of our capacities for transformation and inventionunderstood as free action of the sort that requires that
one understands what it is that one is trying to dois the substantive goal of
moral perfectionism. On the alternative reading that I have proposed, none
of these claims is true. To begin with (3), I have argued that what Cavell talks
about as invention and transformation are not to be identified with free
action in the sense explained by Guyer. Rather, invention and transformation
are processes the ends of which are not clearly understood in advance. Neither is intelligibility a necessary condition for friendshipso I reject (1). In

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fact, friendship in the Cavellian sense is most needed when we have not yet
managed to become intelligible to ourselves and to others, and such friendship is of great moral significance. Finally, I also reject (2): intelligibility is as
substantive a goal of perfectionism as you get, andto quote Cavellthe
friend is a figure that may occur as the goal of the journey but also as its
instigation and accompaniment (Cities of Words, 27).





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Stanley Cavell, Cities of Words: Pedagogical Letters on a Register of the Moral Life
(Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004), 26; quoted by Guyer in Examples of Perfectionism, 8. All further references to Cavells Cities of Words are
cited in the text.
It may, of course, be that Guyer would say that, in practice, these two steps are
often not as neatly separated temporally as this picture suggests, but it seems
to me that he must think of them, at least in principle, as distinguishable in the
envisaged fashion.
Stanley Cavell, Conditions Handsome and Unhandsome: The Constitution of Emersonian Perfectionism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990), 8. All further
references to this work are cited in the text.
I am alluding here to Nietzsches Schopenhauer as Educator (see his Untimely Meditations, trans. R. J. Hollingdale [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983],
129). For a discussion of Nietzsches perfectionism that has many affinities with
the view of perfectionism I am here ascribing to Cavell, see James Conant, Nietzsches Perfectionism: A Reading of Schopenhauer as Educator, in Nietzsches
Postmoralism: Essays on Nietzsches Prelude to Philosophys Future, ed. R. Schacht,
181257 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000).
R. W. Emerson, Essays, ed. E. H. L. Turpin (New York: Charles E. Merrill, 1907),

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