For many liberals, the question “Do others live rightly?” feels inappropriate. Liberalism seems to demand a follow-up question: “Who am I to judge?” Peaceful coexistence, in this view, is predicated on restraint from morally evaluating our peers. But Rahel Jaeggi sees the situation differently. Criticizing is not only valid but also useful, she argues. Moral judgment is no error; the error lies in how we go about judging.
One way to judge is external, based on universal standards derived from ideas about God or human nature. The other is internal, relying on standards peculiar to a given society. Both approaches have serious flaws and detractors. In Critique of Forms of Life, Jaeggi offers a third way, which she calls “immanent” critique. Inspired by Hegelian social philosophy and engaged with Anglo-American theorists such as John Dewey, Michael Walzer, and Alasdair MacIntyre, immanent critique begins with the recognition that ways of life are inherently normative because they assert their own goodness and rightness. They also have a consistent purpose: to solve basic social problems and advance social goods, most of which are common across cultures. Jaeggi argues that we can judge the validity of a society’s moral claims by evaluating how well the society adapts to crisis—whether it is able to overcome contradictions that arise from within and continue to fulfill its purpose.
Jaeggi enlivens her ideas through concrete, contemporary examples. Against both relativistic and absolutist accounts, she shows that rational social critique is possible.
Jaeggi combines…phenomenological attention to lived experience and an eye for social detail… She binds that together with a shrewd grasp of critical theory and the philosophical landscape of the present. Her footnotes alone would make a good book.
Jaeggi’s most impressive undertaking to date…Represents part of Jaeggi’s recent work in critical theory that has led to her recognition as one of the more interesting and innovative critical theorists working in Germany.
Jaeggi offers an interesting new attempt to fulfill the task Habermas has set for critical theory. She recommends accepting the plurality of life forms… Nevertheless we can still uphold a general ideal of emancipation and judge the different contributions of different life forms to a more rational world, if we consider the abilities of life forms to learn from crises and to transform themselves accordingly.
Jaeggi has already earned a firm place in German philosophy. This book reinforces the impression that she has established an important philosophical voice that addresses society and its problems and that we will hear from in the future, even beyond the academy.
Critique of Forms of Life is a comprehensive work that convincingly sets out the philosophical kernel of Hegel’s view, reconstructing and updating it in such a way that it becomes a ‘live’ philosophical option for contemporary audiences. Jaeggi is a rare instance of a philosopher who is immersed in both Continental and Anglo-American philosophical traditions and skillfully unites them in one dialogue.
- 416 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Belknap Press
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