, Volume 43, Issue 3, pp 407-437
Date: 01 Aug 2010

The “new categorical imperative” and Adorno’s aporetic moral philosophy

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Abstract

This article offers a new interpretation of Adorno’s “new categorical imperative”: it suggests that the new imperative is an important element of Adorno’s moral philosophy and at the same time runs counter to some of its essential features. It is suggested that Adorno’s moral philosophy leads to two aporiae, which create an impasse that the new categorical imperative attempts to circumvent. The first aporia results from the tension between Adorno’s acknowledgement that praxis is an essential part of moral philosophy, and his view according to which existing social conditions make it impossible for moral knowledge to be translated into “right” action. The second aporia results from the tension between the uncompromising sensitivity to suffering that underlies Adorno’s moral thought, and his analysis of the culture industry mechanisms which turn people into happy, satisfied customers—an incompatibility which threatens to pull the rug out from under Adorno’s moral philosophy. My interpretation of the “new categorical imperative” focuses on two characteristics it inherits from the “old,” Kantian one—self-evidence and unconditionality—in order to present the new imperative as a response to these two aporiae.