Part of the reason for my worries centre around something both Adorno and McDowell emphasise. This is the conception of nature that arises with modernity, as something disenchanted and mechanical, bereft of the meaning that was once found in it. The rise of science put pressure on a hermeneutic approach to the natural world, which could find significance in the order of the seasons and the setup of the food-chain, signs of divine providence or the natural order of things. But swept away along with this rightful demystification of nature was also the resources for finding certain sorts of normative significance in nature. ‘Rationalised reason’ thus brought with it a sharp division between the subject and the rest of the world, reconstructing ‘oughts’ only from resources to be found within individuals, such as desires or categorically imposed ends or rules necessary to act or think. Freedom then becomes a matter of following or achieving ends that are constituted by the individual — the material world (and often other agents) being mere instruments or blocks to such a process.
The modernist demand for autonomy is thus fundamentally coloured by the modern conception of nature, since its notion of freedom has been conditioned by what it thought the only resources to understand normativity were. Putting this conception of nature under pressure will, I hope, allow us to step away from the one-sided individualism that many conceptions of normativity (and therefore freedom) are pushed towards. While we cannot go back to the Greeks, so to speak — individualism as a value cannot and should not be ignored or wished away — hopefully we will be able to situate it more frutifully when the artificial pressures of a misleading diremption between agent and world are overcome.
This post has been rather messy,
impressionistic, clunky and light
on argument. Also, it is probably
riddled with errors and equivocations.
However, it is only meant to outline
a very rough trajectory of thought
rather than any settled conclusions.
Hopefully, in the the future I can
polish up the rough edges and provide
further connecting tissue for the issues raised.