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The Journal of Aesthetic Education, Volume 48, Number 3, Fall 2014,
pp. 87-98 (Article)
DOI: 10.1353/jae.2014.0017

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A Radical Perfectionist: Revisiting Cavell

in the Light of Kant
Alice Crary
1. Introduction
Stanley Cavell is widely regarded as a major philosophical figure, and he
is generally recognized to have devoted a great deal of his writing to ethical themes. Nevertheless, it is not an exaggeration to say that his work has
not for the most part been received within Anglo-American analytic ethics.
There is an impressively large body of commentary on Cavells contribution
to moral philosophy, but most of it gets generated and discussed outside
analytic circles. Paul Guyers remarks here on the major strand of Cavells
ethical thought that Cavell places under the heading of moral perfectionism are for this reason very welcome.1 Guyers main thesis is that Cavells
perfectionist posture is more Kantian than Cavell and others have realized.
Given that Kantian approaches currently enjoy a central position in analytic moral philosophy, this is rightly regarded as a bold proposal to situate
Cavell inside an intellectual tradition in which he has yet to find a stable
I am going to ask whether Cavell can, in fact, be thus neatly domesticated
within mainstream ethics or whether there are more substantive reasons for
his outsider status. My interest in this question does not stem from any overwhelming disagreement with Guyers specific claims. Guyer has made a
thoughtful and compelling case for convergences between Cavell and Kant.
There is, however, good reason to think that the convergences in question
coexist with some deep divergences and, further, that the divergences mark
Cavell out as, in certain respects, a quite unKantian thinker. Bearing these
things in mind, I want here to touch on some of the more striking ways in
Alice Crary is associate professor in philosophy at the New School for Social Research. Her research and teaching cover topics that include ethics, Wittgenstein, J. L.
Austin, philosophy and literature, animals and ethics, and feminism and philosophy.
She is author of Beyond Moral Judgment (2007), coeditor of The New Wittgenstein (2000)
and Reading Cavell (2006), and also editor of Wittgenstein and the Moral Life: Essays in
Honor of Cora Diamond (2007). She is currently completing a book on human beings,
animals, and ethics, titled Inside Ethics.
Journal of Aesthetic Education, Vol. 48, No. 3, Fall 2014
2014 Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois

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which Cavell departs from Kant and to make a few suggestions about the
moral importance of these moments in Cavells work. I will proceed by first
touching on elements of Cavells ethical project that do not figure in Guyers
reflections and suggesting that these Cavellian gestures belong to a strain
of Cavells thought that is difficult to locate not only in relation to Kant
but also in relation to Anglo-American ethics more generally. After briefly
revisiting Guyers remarks on Cavell and Kant, I will provide support for
my non-Kantian take on Cavellian perfectionism by discussing what Cavell
himself describes as his perfectionist reading of Henrik Ibsens play A Doll
House. By way of closing, I will make a suggestion about the moral interest
of Cavellian perfectionism as I understand it by discussing what, by my
lights, counts as a Cavellian perfectionist moment in the thought of a prominent contemporary feminist social critic.

2. Guyer on Cavell and Kant

A brief synopsis of Guyers claims about Cavell and Kant will suffice as
background for the things that I want to say. Guyer starts his case for alignment between these two thinkers with the following reflections on Cavellian
perfectionism. He notes that, for Cavell, talk of perfectionism refers to the
idea that the task of moral improving or perfecting is one that is in principle
always ongoing (Examples of Perfectionism, 6). How, Guyer asks, should
we conceive the normative end toward which the Cavellian perfectionist thus
continually strives? Guyer approaches his answer to this question by touching
on passages in which Cavell says that it is characteristic of the perfectionist
to see us as ever aspiring to make ourselves intelligible to ourselves and to
others.2 Guyer does not think we should take such passages at face value,
and, in commenting on them, he offers what he presents as a very modest
correction to Cavell. Guyer says he agrees that making ourselves intelligible is
a crucial part of moral thought, adding that other normative ethical theories
presuppose that we must be able to understand [our actions] (ibid., 78). At
the same time, Guyer takes it as a given that achieving this kind of understanding is separate from, even if necessary for, successful moral reasoning
that determines whether we are aiming at what we ought to be aiming at in
our actions (ibid.). He thus represents himself as being charitable in proposing
that we read Cavell, in a slightly revisionary style, so that now Cavell appears
to be saying that making oneself intelligible is not the end of the perfectionists exertions but rather a necessary condition of her pursuit of her end. Having made this proposal, Guyer turns to passages in which Cavell represents
the end of perfectionist striving as a kind ofnever fully completedselfinvention or self-transformation that is a direct expression of the exercise of
freedom. Guyers suggestion is that this, and not intelligibility, is the Cavellian
perfectionists true end (ibid., 9).

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A Radical Perfectionist89
Later in this essay, I am going to suggest that the Cavellian perfectionists pursuit of intelligibility and her pursuit of freedom are more closely
linked than Guyer claims and that there is, in fact, no obstacle to taking at
face value Cavells remarks about how the perfectionists end is greater intelligibility.3 Setting aside for the moment the question of how the Cavellian
perfectionists quest for intelligibility and freedom are linked (and allowing that Guyer is right that they are closely linked), I want to describe how
Guyers comments about these elements of Cavellian perfectionism set up
his comparison between Cavell and Kant.
Guyers main goals in discussing Kant are twofold. He wants to show
thatlike Cavell as Guyer understands himKant holds that making
ourselves intelligible to ourselves is a necessary condition of the exercise
of freedom. He also wants to show that Kant anticipates Cavell in holding
that the end of ethics is the indefinite perfection of the exercise of freedom.
The first of these projectsnamely, showing that Kant thinks intelligibility is a necessary condition of freedomis relatively uncomplicated, and
Guyer dispatches it quickly (Examples of Perfectionism, 1213). The second projectnamely, showing Kant thinks the end of ethics is the indefinite
perfection of freedomis somewhat more involved. This is in part because
an account of Kant as in the relevant sense a perfectionist sympathizer may
seem to be undercut by Kants well-known attacks on specific perfectionist
doctrines. Guyer does not deny or discount the interest of these antiperfectionist moments in Kants writings, but he does underline the existence of
a passage in which Kant represents the end of ethics as the perfection of
our free choice (ibid., 12).4 Guyer sets out to show that this particular properfectionist gesture is representative of Kants mature ethical outlook. He
draws on a story about Kants conception of freedom that he himself tells
at length and with great insight elsewhere in his work on Kants ethics. He
explains that, although at a relatively early point in his life Kant represents
the exercise of free choice as necessarily excluding evil, later on Kant develops a conception of autonomy according to which we are free to choose evil
or good.5 Equipped with this account of Kants understanding of freedom,
Guyer can say that, for Kant, as for Cavell after him, ethical endeavor aims
at the perfection of free choice. But it requires a further step to show that,
also like Cavell, Kant thinks the process of perfecting our freedom is a neverending one. Toward the end of his paper, Guyer accordingly outlines a case
for thinking that Kant conceives moral education as an endeavor with which
we are never finished (see Examples of Perfectionism, esp. 18). His case is
persuasive, but it leaves ample room for a question about whether Kant and
Cavell have the same reasons for thinking that moral education is essentially
ongoing. I will return to this question later. In order to pose it properly, I
need first to touch on some features of Cavellian perfectionism that do not
figure in Guyers remarks.

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3. Remarks on the Roots

of Cavellian Perfectionism
One of the hallmarks of Cavells philosophy is a distinctive view of thought
and language that he claims to inherit largely from Wittgenstein. This view
informs Cavells work in ethics, leaving its imprint on his perfectionist posture. Without entering into any questions about how Cavell reads Wittgenstein, I want to say a few words about what the view in question is like.
One of its central distinguishing features is the idea that our sensitivities make internal contributions to all our capacities for thought and speech.
With regard to language in particular, Cavells basic point is that, in employing linguistic expressions, we invariably draw on our sense of the importance of similarities uniting their different uses. With regard to thought
more generally, his point is that, in bringing individuals or kinds of things
mentally into focus, we invariably draw on our sense of the importance of
similarities among different possible or actual representations of those individuals or kinds of things.6 It may seem as though, in making these points,
Cavell forfeits his claim to the ideal of objective (or undistorted) intellectual
access to the world. It is, after all, common for philosophers to assume that
our entitlement to this ideal stands or falls with the availability of a wholly
disengaged standpoint for thought. So it is worth stressing that Cavell is not
so much insisting on the unavailability of the idea of a completely dispassionate standpoint as on its utter incoherence. He believes that it would be
confused to try to invoke thisby his lights, bankruptidea to antecedently impugn the cognitive credentials of modes of discourse that bear the
necessary imprint of our sensitivities. He accordingly calls on us not to abandon the idea of undistorted access to the world but rather to transform our
conception of it so that an ideally disengaged stance is no longer its touchstone. Among Cavells more characteristic expressions of this transformed
conception of cognitive contact with the world is his claim, advanced in an
oft-quoted passage from the Claim of Reason (241), that our relation to the
world as such is not that of knowing, anyway not what we think of as knowing. Or, again, Cavell is expressing the view that cognitive contact with the
world is necessarily shaped by sensibility when he says that in all knowledge there is a moment of acknowledgment.7
My point is not that this Cavellian image of our cognitive condition is
obviously un-Kantian. On the contrary, I am inclined to believe that it is
possible to find a good source for the image in Kant. Consider, for instance,
the passage of the Critique of Pure Reason (A120) in which Kant declares that,
within perceptual thought, a combination of [representations] such as they
cannot have in sense itself is demanded. We might well interpret this passage as contributing to a view of perceptual thought that is an ancestor of
Cavells views. That is, we might take Kant to be claiming that, in order to

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A Radical Perfectionist91
be rightly credited with perceiving a kind of thing, there needs to be, internal to our perception of it, the thought of connections to other possible or
actual representations of things of that kind. By the same token, we might
take Kant to be claiming that, in order to be rightly credited with perceiving
an individual thing, there needs to be, internal to our perception of it, the
thought of connections to other possible or actual representations of that
thing. If we now add that a persons ability to arrive at a thought about connections among different representations depends on her having a sense of
the importance of similarities among those representations, we wind up with
an interpretation of Kant as holding that sensitivities necessarily inform all
perceptual thought.8 An interpretation along these lines would justify our
speaking of Kantian resonances in Cavells image of human cognition.
Yet, even if we characterize this image as a Kantian one, it remains the
case that Cavell takes it in a direction that Kant and contemporary Kantians do not want to go. Most Kantian moral philosophers follow Kant in
presupposing that the only legitimate methods for illuminating the empirical world, whether in ethics or elsewhere, are those of the sciences. Cavell,
in contrast, tends to move seamlessly from his (arguably Kantian) understanding of our cognitive condition to suggesting that there are nonscientific methods for taking the empirical seriously that are important for ethics. What might be taken to justify this move? A moment ago, I mentioned
that, in developing his preferred understanding of our cognitive condition,
Cavell rejects as hopelessly confused the idea of an ideally disengaged
standpoint for thought. I also mentioned that he thinks it follows from this
gesture of rejection that we are not in a position to antecedently impugn
the cognitive credentials of modes of thought simply because they bear the
necessary imprint of our sensitivities. What I need to add now is that among
the sensitivity-informed modes of thought that Cavell thinks may be cognitively authoritative are some that qualify as engaged in a sense that marks
them as nonscientific. At issue are modes of thought that are concerned with
things that cannot be adequately described apart from reference to their tendency to elicit specific attitudes and that accordingly require that we enter
into specific cultural or evaluative perspectives.9 Consider, for instance, the
many passages in his writings in which Cavell represents humans with various sensations and emotions as in themselves meriting certain responses.10
Again and again, Cavell suggests that, to arrive at a just understanding of
minded human beings (ourselves or others), we may need to cultivate new
modes of responsiveness. There is no hint in Cavells treatments of these
topics that he takes the psychological terms we use in making sense of human beings to be anything other than straightforwardly world directed. So
here we have a clear illustration of how, in addition to embracing a picture
of our cognitive situation that is arguably Kantian, Cavell helps himself to a
view of appropriate methods for ethics that is quite foreign to Kant.11

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Cavells view of appropriate methods for ethics does not merely place
him at odds with Kant and contemporary Kantians. It also places him at
odds with dominant currents of thought in analytic ethics more generally.
To see this, we can turn to the relatively recent and widely discussed philosophical movement called experimental philosophy. A core tenet of a great deal
of work in experimental philosophy is that the only reputable methods for
studying the empirical world are those of the sciences and, further, that any
other empirical methods employed by moral philosophers are at bottom
mere appeals to intuition. This is noteworthy because experimental philosophy depends for the excitement it has generated on highlighting methodological presuppositions that are very common in ethics. Insofar as Cavell
is not part of the larger ethical trend that experimental philosophers seek
to articulate and defend, we are justified in speakingnot merely of nonKantian butof philosophically radical tendencies of his ethical thought.
I want to pause here to anticipate two potential misunderstandings.
To claim, as I just did, that Cavell allows for empirical methods in ethics
that are generally excluded by experimental philosophers is not to say that
Cavell is somehow antiscientific. It does not follow from anything I have
said that Cavell does not favor the scientific worldview or that he does not
think scientific methods have a uniquely important place in our culture. The
point is simply that he makes room for empirical methods in ethics that
are not themselves scientific. That gesture is what distinguishes him from
experimental philosophers, and there is no conflict between it and the scientific worldview. This brings me to a second potential misunderstanding. It
also does not follow from anything I have said that Kant employs scientific
methods in ethics or is somehow guilty of scientism. The only point I made
about Kants approach in ethics is that it does not include methodsof a
sort decisively important for Cavellthat are both empirical and outside the
purview of the sciences.12
Equipped with these reflections, I want to revisit Guyers question about
the Kantian character of Cavellian perfectionism.

4. On the Anti-Kantian Character

of Cavellian Perfectionism
Recall the correction to Cavell that Guyer offers in setting up his alignment
between perfectionist themes in Cavell and Kant. Guyer claims, in opposition to some of Cavells own suggestions, that intelligibility to ourselves and
others should not be seen as the end of the Cavellian perfectionists striving.
Rather it should be seen as at most a necessary condition of such striving.
What underlies Guyers sense that this correction is called for is, as I have
noted, the assumption that understanding our practical circumstances is

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A Radical Perfectionist93
separate from figuring out what we should be aiming at in our actions. This
assumption is deeply engrained in contemporary moral philosophy, and it is
not difficult to appreciate why. If, together with experimental philosophers
and many others, we take it that the sciences furnish our only respectable
resources for understanding our lives in ethics, then it seems reasonable to
assume that the relevant task of understanding is distinct from the task of
working out what we should do. Despite whatever appearance of reasonableness it enjoys, this assumption is not at home in Cavells thought. Cavell
holds that in ethics we are entitled to nonscientific, empirical methods that
are capable of revealing ethically and practically significant aspects of our
lives. This suggests that, for him, the process of making ourselves intelligible
is inseparable from the process of determining what is demanded of us. So
it is not clear that we have any reason to think that, when Cavell describes
the pursuit of intelligibility as the end of ethics, he is saying anything other
than exactly what he means.
These remarks equip me to capture succinctly what is distinctive about
Cavellian perfectionism. Cavell challenges a received conception of the
place in moral reasoning of efforts to understand ourselves. In doing so,
he radically revises received views about the nature and difficulty of such
efforts. The task of understanding ourselves in a manner relevant to ethics
is one that, as Cavell conceives it, essentially requires that we be open to
exploring new cultural and evaluative perspectives. There are many ways
to explore such perspectives, and Cavell himself places particular emphasis on the manner in which we can expose ourselves to new perspectives
by being more responsive to people around usour friends, lovers, and
companionsand by immersing ourselves in literature and the other arts.
Abstracting from the question of how we approach it, this kind of work on
ourselves is what Cavell has in mind when, in describing his perfectionist
outlook, he talks about a demand for self-transformation or self-invention.
He believes that this demand is one we never exhaustively satisfy because,
as we have seen, he believes that the world that concerns us in ethics is one
that only reveals itself to engaged reflection. It follows, for him, that there
is no way to authoritatively determine whether new modes of responsiveness will enable us to bring novel aspects of this world into focus apart from
imaginatively exploring such modes of responsiveness. So the only morally
responsible stance is that of the person who embodies perfectionist ideals
insofar as she is perpetually open to thus working on herself.
The Cavellian perfectionists reasons for perpetual openness to working
on herself, as I just presented them, are reasons that are alien to Kant. So
while it seems right to say, with Guyer, that there are perfectionist moments
in Kant as well as Cavell, it also seems right to add that these thinkers reasons for speaking in perfectionist registers are quite different.

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5. Cavellian Perfectionism
in Ibsens A Doll House
A good place to turn for support for this relatively non-Kantian account of
Cavellian perfectionism is one of Cavells own favorite illustrations of perfectionist thematics, namely, Ibsens play A Doll House.13 Cavell is particularly interested in certain structural features of the moral crisis at the center
of the play. To set up a discussion of the relevant features, I need to briefly
recount the main events in the plays well-known storyline.
The setting is the comfortable home of a bourgeois familya husband
and wife, Torvald and Nora, and three small childrenin Norway around
1870. As the play progresses, we learn that, several years back, at a time
when Torvald needed medical care that the family could not otherwise afford, Norawho was prevented by law from getting money from the bank
in her own namesigned her dying fathers name to obtain a loan. Although
Nora has kept up with all of her loan payments by saving on household expenses, she is threatened with exposure by Nils Krogstad, an employee at
the bank at which Torvald also works, who plans to blackmail Torvald with
Noras secret. Nora fears Krogstads scheming because she thinks that, if
her past actions come to light, Torvald will take the scandal on himself, doing something desperate to save her reputation. Krogstad does eventually
inform Torvald about Noras illegal financial transaction, but, when he does,
Torvald gives no thought to Noras situation or interests, focusing instead
solely on the potential damage to his own reputation and honor. He tells
Nora that she is an immoral woman, unfit to raise their children, and that
he will continue their marriage for the sake of appearances only. Soon after
this episode, Krogstad recants, promising Torvald that he will not go public
with Noras past actions and giving Torvald the loan contract to destroy. Torvalds attitude toward Nora now changes dramatically again. He reverts to
treating Nora as a child who does not understand the ways of the world and
needs his protection. Noras response is to leave her husband and children
and to go in search of an education for herself.
Let me now consider the aspects of the play that interest Cavell and that
he regards as illustrative of perfectionist themes. Cavell notes that Torvalds
response to learning about Noras bank loan leaves Nora feeling, in Cavells
words, outraged, dishonored, ashamed.14 Cavell goes on to focus on the
following exchange between Nora and Torvald.15
Torvald disparages Noras efforts to account for her sense of wrong,
telling her, you do not understand the world you live in.16 For her part,
Nora accepts this criticism as the simple truth (see Conditions Handsome and
Unhandsome, 109). Before her crisis, she had trusted in the rightness of her
societys laws and believed in her husbands greater wisdom and goodness. Afterward, her entire image of her life shifts, and, although she lacks

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A Radical Perfectionist95
confidence in her new vision of things, she has a sharp sense of grievance.
Her chargewhich she levels against her husband, against the institution of
marriage, and against societyis that she lacks the resources to understand
her life and assess the validity of her sense of having been wronged. This,
she tells Torvald, is what drives her decision to leave her husband and children, namely, her newfound conviction that she needs the space to grow in
ways that allow her to judge her case for herself (ibid., 110).
When Cavell discusses this conversation between Nora and Torvald, he
draws attention to the fact that Nora is portrayed as having undergone a
dramatic transformation, so that her sense of what is important alters and
different aspects of her life are illuminated for her. Cavell pays special attention to the closing scene in which Nora tells Torvald that married life with
him could only be possible again on the condition of a miraculous change
(Conditions Handsome and Unhandsome, 11213).17 As Cavell reads the play,
the point here is that Torvald would need to show himself willing to explore
the kind of sensibility that Nora now has without having advance guarantee
of the validity of the vision of the world it brings into view. He would need
to work on himself with an eye to appreciating Noras sense of grievance,
even though he currently finds himself in a situation in which, in Cavells
words, moral justifications [have] come to an end and no specific wrong
[is] claimable (ibid., 112).18 This, Cavell declares, is the field of Moral
Perfectionism (ibid.). Cavells thought is that Ibsen presents us with a theatrical expression of the idea that it is always in principle possible that we
may require a refashioned sensibility to understand our lives in a manner
relevant to ethics,19 and my point here is simply that this thought is central
to Cavellian perfectionism as I understand it.
I am convinced that a good argument for Cavellian perfectionism, thus
understood, is available. But I cannot reasonably attempt an argument here.
So I am going to limit myself to trying to bolster the practical credentials
of Cavellian perfectionism by discussing what I regard as a powerful instance of social criticism that is aptly described as having the marks of such
perfectionism. Picking up on the feminist thematics of Ibsens play, I will
draw my example from feminist social thoughtspecifically, from Catharine MacKinnons discussion, in a 1979 book, of the sexual harassment of
working women.20
MacKinnon is concerned with a wide range of forms of unwanted sexual
attention that women receive on the job. She is acutely aware that many of
the modes of conduct that she discusses tend to be regarded by her contemporaries as at worst mildly annoying and, hence, as failing to qualify as
forms of harassment.21 One of her guiding principles is that harms that go
largely unregistered may nevertheless be real.22 Among the many scenarios
MacKinnon describes is one involving a woman whose male employer constantly described his wish for sexual contact with her, occasionally patted

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her behind, made frequent comments about her style of dress that implied
that she was loose, and so forth (Sexual Harassment, 42). MacKinnon sets
out to show that such conduct, together with other forms of unwanted
sexual attention, should be recognized as harassment that amounts to sex
MacKinnons methods for showing this are what place her within the field
of Cavellian perfectionism. Implicit in her strategy is the assumption that,
to get us to recognize the facts that amount to sexual harassment, she needs
to transform our sense of importance, bringing us to see specific modes of
conduct in a new light. MacKinnon approaches this task by discussing various forms of employment-related gender inequality, including those that get
placed under the headings of sexual segregation and stratification and
income inequality (Sexual Harassment, 10ff). Her thought is that, once we
appreciate the insidiousness of these forms of inequality, unwanted sexual
attention that women receive in the workplace takes on a new aspect for us.
Now the relevant modes of conduct no longer appear to be merely innocuous. Instead, they can be seen as behaviors that, in her words, use and help
create womens structurally inferior status (ibid., 10) and that thus threaten
and intimidate in ways that resemble received forms of harassment. In this
wayby attempting to shape the concerns that we bring to bear in thinking
about specific forms of sexual conductMacKinnon attempts to get us to
register the phenomenon of sexual harassment. She effectively suggests that
we need to transform ourselves in ways that equip us to look on familiar
aspects of social life in a new evaluative light if we are to properly understand what lies before us. One point I want to make is simply that, in putting
forward a suggestion on these lines, MacKinnon adopts what, in light of my
defense here of a largely non-Kantian account of Cavellian perfectionism,
might well be called a perfectionist stance. A second point is that, insofar as
MacKinnons contribution to discussions of sexual harassment is recognized
as an insightful bit of social criticism, it accordingly speaks for the practical
interest of such a stance.
A final comment by way of closing: If there is anything to my remarks in
this talk, then Guyers alignment between Cavell and Kant is not the whole
story, and there is a morally significant respect in which Cavells and Kants
perfectionist tendencies are opposed. Whether there is anything to my remarks, I am persuaded that these topics are ripe for discussion, and I am
grateful to have the opportunity to share my two cents.


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See Paul Guyer, Examples of Perfectionism, the first essay in this issue of JAE.
Guyer observes that Cavell sometimes describes himself as championing Emer-

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A Radical Perfectionist97
sonian perfectionism. Guyer also claims that some of Cavells perfectionist ideas
predate his serious engagement with Emerson and that it, therefore, makes more
sense to speak of Cavellian perfectionism (see, for example, 8). I do not here enter
very far into the question of sources for Cavells perfectionism. Sidestepping this
issue, I refer to Cavells overarching perfectionist orientation alternately as Cavellian perfectionism or, more generically, as moral perfectionism.
2. Here Guyer is referring to Cavell, Cities of Words: Pedagogical Letters on a Register
of the Moral Life (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004), 24. All further
references to this work are cited in the text.
3. See section 4, below.
4. The inset quote is from Kants Lectures on Ethics, ed. Peter Heath and J. B. Schneewind, trans. Peter Heath (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 44.
5. For one of Guyers detailed treatments of these themes, see his Kant on the
Theory and Practice of Autonomy, in Kants System of Nature and Freedom: Selected Essays (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2005), 11545, esp. 12425. For a briefer
overview of this region of Guyers thought about Kant, see The Moral Law and
Freedom of the Will, in Kant (Abingdon: Routledge, 2006), 21329, esp. 22527.
6. For one of Cavells most involved treatments of these points, see his Excursus on Wittgensteins Vision of Language, in The Claim of Reason: Wittgenstein,
Skepticism, Morality and Tragedy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979), 16889.
Although Cavell here focuses on the case of language, his argument clearly depends for its success on the more general point about thought. All further references to Cavells Claim of Reason are cited in the text.
7. See esp. Stanley Cavell, Knowing and Acknowledging, in Must We Mean What
We Say? A Book of Essays (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1969), 23866.
8. For a defense of this basic interpretation of Kant, see, e.g., P. F. Strawson, Imagination and Perception, in Freedom and Resentment and Other Essays (London:
Methuen & Co, Ltd., 1974), 5072.
9. There are admittedly philosophers who allow that modes of thought that are
essentially informed by sensitivities may be objectively authoritative and who
also explicitly deny that it follows that evaluative modes of discourse, when conceived as world directed, may be objectively authoritative. I cannot here consider how a Cavell-style ethical stance might be defended against the objections
of such philosophers, but I respond to such objections elsewhere. See, e.g., Alice
Crary, Beyond Moral Judgment (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007),
10. This should be evident to anyone familiar with Cavells different treatments of
issues in philosophy of psychology. See, e.g., Knowing and Acknowledging,
esp. 263, where Cavell writes, It is not enough that I know (am certain) that you
sufferI must do or reveal something (whatever can be done), in a word, I must
acknowledge it, otherwise I do not know what (your or his) being in pain means,
11. To say, as I just did, that Cavell takes our modes of affective responsiveness to
contribute internally to the kind of worldly understanding that is relevant to
ethics is not to suggest that he is somehow inheriting from the moral sense tradition. The main source of Cavells preferred image of moral understanding is, as
I suggested in the text, Wittgensteins later view of language.
12. Both of these points are responses to Guyers comments at our symposium in
Stockholm. Together with the last note, the current note and the paragraph to
which it is attached are the only bits of text that were added to this paper after
the symposium. Otherwise, my paper is unchanged.
13. Henrik Ibsen, A Dolls House and Other Plays, trans. Peter Watts (London: Penguin, 1965). I refer to Ibsens play as A Doll House (and not as A Dolls House, the
title used in this translation) because this is how Cavell refers to it. For two of
Cavells lengthiest discussions of Ibsens play, see his Conditions Handsome and

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Unhandsome: The Constitution of Emersonian Perfectionism (Chicago: Open Court
Press, 1990), esp. 10815; and Pursuits of Happiness: The Hollywood Comedy of
Remarriage (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Film Studies, 1981), esp. 2024. Further
references to Cavells Conditions Handsome and Unhandsome and Pursuits of Happiness are cited in the text.
14. These are Cavells words. See Conditions Handsome and Unhandsome, 109.
15. Cavell quotes the bulk of the text in which the exchange takes place in Pursuits of
Happiness, 2022.
16. Cavell mentions this passage at ibid. It is a quote from A Dolls House, 228.
17. See also Pursuits of Happiness, 2223.
18. See also Conditions Handsome and Unhandsome, 110, where Cavell suggests that
one moral of this portion of Ibsens play is that the inevitable distance from
ideal compliance is not to be accommodated by imagining an argument of right
and wrong.
19. See ibid., 112, where Cavell writes, The alternative [to persisting in the claim
to be right] would be to find myself dissatisfied with what I do, what I consent
to; it is not natural to me as my language is natural to me. ... Then, if as is overwhelmingly likely, I continue to consent to the way things are, what must be
shown, acknowledged, is ... that I know change is called for, and to be striven
for, beginning with myself.
20. Catharine MacKinnon, Sexual Harassment of Working Women: A Case of Sex Discrimination (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1979). Further references to
this work are cited in the text.
21. There are different benchmarks for the establishment of sexual harassment as
a legal concept in the United States. One of the most important is the Equal
Employment Opportunity Commissions 1980 interpretation of the 1964 Civil
Rights Act as prohibiting such harassment. Notice that this places the birth of the
legal concept of sexual harassment after the publication of MacKinnons book.
22. See, e.g., Sexual Harassment, 28. Here MacKinnon quotes a passage from Adrienne Richs writings in which Rich claims that the fact that we could not hear
does not mean that no pain existed.

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