Cavell Conference


Speaker: Various Speakers

When: Oct 17, 2019 - 09:30am - 05:00pm

Where: Bobo Room of Hodgin Hall




Piergiorgio Donatelli,  Università degli Studi “La Sapienza” di Roma.

“Modernism, romanticism, perfectionism: themes and variations”

Bio: Piergiorgio Donatelli is professor of Philosophy at Sapienza University of Rome. He is the author of various books and articles on the history of ethics, on J.S. Mill, Wittgenstein and Stanly Cavell. He has recently published the volumes: Manieres d’être humain. Une autre philosophie morale (Vrin, 2015); Etica. I classici, le teorie e le linee evolutive (Einaudi, 2015); Il lato ordinario della vita. Filosofia ed esperienza comune (il Mulino, 2018).

Jeroen Gerrits, SUNY, Binghamton

“From Skepticism to Perfectionism in Two Tales of Winter”

Bio: Geroen Gerrits is Associate Professor of Comparative Literature at Binghamton University (SUNY), where he teaches courses on the intersection between film, literature and philosophy. His monograph Digital Skepticism: Across Digital and Global Turnsis forthcoming with the SUNY Press (November 2019). Gerrits has published numerous articles and book chapters on various aspects of Cavell’s philosophy.


As a free interpretation of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, Eric Rohmer’s film Conte D’Hiver/A Tale of Winter (1981) sheds an interesting light on the practice of adaptation and indeed on the rivalry between theater and film. Given Stanley Cavell’s longstanding interest in Shakespeare’s theater and in the medium of film in general, his discussion of Rohmer’s film (at the close of Cities of Words, 2004) is of interest precisely to see how the two media, both of which entertain intrinsic yet different connections to skepticism, are brought to bear on one another. Cavell’s essay on the two tales of winter is of further interest still as it connects the theme of skepticism to that of moral perfectionism—a thematic relation within Cavell’s oeuvre that remains under-examined. 

Mathias Girel, Ecole Normale Supérieure de Paris (ENS).

“Dewey;s 1932 Ethics and the Justification of Moral Claims”

Bio: MATHIAS GIREL is a philosopher, Associate Professor at École normale supérieure-PSL, Paris, member of the research unit "Republic of Knowledge" and Director of the Archive Centre in philosophy, history and publishing of the sciences (CAPHÉS). He is conducting research on pragmatism and American philosophy, and on questions related to the the production of doubt and instrumentalization of ignorance. He has edited and prefaced the French edition of R. Proctor's Golden Holocaust (2014), published Science et territoires de l’ignorance [Science and Territories of Ignorance], Paris, 2017 and is completing a volume on American Philosophy, to be published in the Fall (L’esprit en acte).

Russell Goodman, University of New Mexico

“Cavell and the Transcendentalists (2): Emersonian Moral Perfectionism.”

Bio: Russell B. Goodman, Professor of Philosophy and Regents’ Professor Emeritus at the University of New Mexico is the author of American Philosophy and the Romantic Tradition (Cambridge, 1990), Wittgenstein and William James (Cambridge, 2002), and American Philosophy before Pragmatism (Oxford, 2015); and editor of Pragmatism: A Contemporary Reader (Routledge, 1995), Pragmatism:  Critical Concepts in Philosophy (Routledge, 2005), and Contending with Stanley Cavell (Oxford, 2005).   He has been a Fellow of the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities at the University of Edinburgh, a Fulbright Senior Lecturer at the University of Barcelona, and director of summer seminars in New Mexico on Emerson and on pragmatism for the National Endowment for the Humanities. 


This paper takes up my discussion of Cavell’s engagement with the American Transcendentalists Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau roughly 20 years after it began, with the publication of Conditions Handsome and Unhandsome: The Constitution of Emersonian Perfectionism (Chicago, 1990). Whereas The Senses of Walden (1972), “Thinking of Emerson” (1979) and “An Emerson Mood” (1979) focus on issues of epistemology and metaphysics, in Conditions Cavell highlights issues of moral philosophy that escape treatment by the standard philosophical opposition between utilitarianism and the duty-centered ethics of Kant. What Cavell calls Emersonian Moral Perfectonism occupies his attention for the next fifteen years, culminating in Cities of Words: Pedagogical Letters on a Dimension of the Moral Life (2005). In that book, Emerson is the central guide to what Cavell calls the “re-beginning of philosophy.”

Sandra Laugier, Université Paris 1, Panthéon-Sorbonne

“Categories of the Ordinary”

Bio: Sandra Laugier is Professor of Philosophy Université Paris 1 Panthéon Sorbonne, Paris, France, and a Senior member of Institut Universitaire de France. She is co-Director of the Institut des sciences juridique et philosophique de la Sorbonne (UMR 8103, Université Paris 1 Panthéon Sorbonne et CNRS)

She has published in French, English, Italian, German on ordinary language philosophy (Wittgenstein, Austin, Cavell), moral perfectionism (Cavell, Thoreau, Emerson), popular culture (film and TV series), gender studies, democracy and civil disobedience.

Her most recent books include:

Why We Need Ordinary Language Philosophy, Chicago University Press, 2013. Recommencer la philosophie – Cavell et la philosophie américaine aujourd’hui, Vrin, 2014. Le principe démocratie (with A. Ogien), La Découverte, 2014. Antidémocratie (avec A. Ogien), La Découverte, 2017, Formes de vie (ed. avec Estelle Ferrarese, 2018) ; Nos vies en séries (Flammarion, 2019)

She is the translator of Stanley Cavell’s work. 
She is a columnist at the French Journal Libération.

Paul Livingston, University of New Mexico

“A politics of form-of-life is an unconditional universalism: Perfectionism and rule-following.”

Bio: Paul M. Livingston is the author of four books on twentieth-century and contemporary philosophy: Philosophical History and the Problem of Consciousness (Cambridge, 2004); Philosophy and the Vision of Language (Routledge, 2008); The Politics of Logic: Badiou, Wittgenstein, and the Consequences of Formalism (Routledge, 2012); and The Logic of Being: Realism, Truth, and Time (Northwestern, 2017).  He is also the co-author (with Andrew Cutrofello) of The Problems of Contemporary Philosophy (Polity, 2015).  He lives with his family in the Sandia Mountains of New Mexico. 


One aim of this paper is to test an aspect of the possibility, in connection with Cavell’s idea of moral perfectionism, of something that deserves to be called a “Wittgensteinian” critical politics of the global present.  Beginning with Cavell’s sense, articulated in The Claim of Reason, of Wittgenstein’s distinction in having introduced into philosophy terms of criticism of the present that are not moralistic, in the sense that they do not exempt their formulator from the force of their own questioning, I shall examine in particular that skein of the Investigation’s critique that operates by staging the idea that of a rule as a finite structure or entity capable of determining all of its infinite number of instances “in advance.”  If Wittgenstein’s critique of this idea opens it to challenge on the ground that it falsifies the life of our everyday language as we live or practice it, it also positions the idea as one that tempts us peculiarly for reasons specific to the character of the distinctive forms of collective language, practice and relationship that can be gesturally indicated by the heading of “global capitalism”, thus critically setting itself against capitalism’s claim for the effectivity of its procedures or the propounding of its identities.  But if Wittgenstein may here be seen, as Cavell has argued, formulating the claim of a moral perfectionism that urges the possibility of not only individual but also (perhaps more primarily) social transformation, what is, then, the relevantly indicated global alternative?  Following Cavell, I argue for an understanding of the rule-following argument of the PI that situates its essential critical resource as that of Wittgenstein’s appeal to the continuance or inheritance of a form-of-life, as witnessed in the appeal to the necessity of criteria, over against conventionalist and empiricist pictures of their constitution.   This is to discern, I argue, against conventionalist interpretations of the “rule-following” problem of the Investigations and its solution such as Kripke’s, the possibility of a critical universalist appeal to language as the basis for a renewed contemporary universalism and the invocation of a liberated collective life.


Paola Marrati, Johns Hopkins University.,

“In Search of Existence. Cavell on Descartes, Emerson, and Perfectionism.”

Bio: Paola Marrati is Professor of Humanities and Philosophy at Johns Hopkins University with a joint appointment in the Department of Philosophy and is affiliated to the Department of Anthropology. From 2007-2011 she was director of the Program for the Study of Women, Gender, and Sexuality. Before joining the faculty at Johns Hopkins in 2003, she held the Chair of Philosophy of Art and Culture in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Amsterdam and was director of the research program “Concepts of Life in Contemporary French Philosophy: Genealogies and Transformations” at the Collège International de Philosophie in Paris. She is currently member of the Scientific Board of the Center for the Study of French Contemporary Philosophy at the Ecole Normale Supérieure de Paris.

Paola Marrati received her education in philosophy in Italy and France: she majored in philosophy at the Università degli Studi di Pisa and pursued her doctoral studies at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris as well as at the Marc Bloch University of Strasbourg.

Her research interest in modern and contemporary philosophy focus mainly on the works of authors such as Bergson, Deleuze, Derrida and Cavell who all, in spite of their obvious differences, attempt to transform philosophy so that it can continue to be faithful to its ancient task of being at once a criticism of culture and a therapeutic of the self. She is also interested in how philosophical problems are expressed and renewed outside of the canon, especially in literature, films and TV series. Her teaching reflects her research interests and is guided by the commitment to the most historically accurate and conceptually rigorous reading of texts. Some of her recent courses and seminars include: “Gilles Deleuze. Critical Philosophy,” “The Event and the Ordinary,” “The Morality and Politics of Skepticism,” “Cinema and Philosophy,” “What Remains of the Human” “Concepts of Life.”

Her principal publications include: Genesis and Trace. Derrida Reader of Husserl and Heidegger (Stanford University Press, 2005), Gilles Deleuze. Cinema and Philosophy (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008), Bergson et le contemporain (Belles Lettres, forthcoming), Cavell and Modernism ed. (Bloomsbury Press, forthcoming). She is currently completing a manuscript entitled The Event and the Ordinary: On the Philosophy of Gilles Deleuze and Stanley Cavell.

Abstract: In Search of Existence. Cavell on Descartes, Emerson, and Perfectionism.

In conjunction with his reading of Emerson and the elaboration of a new form of moral perfectionism, Cavell focuses on a dimension of Descartes’s philosophy that exceeds the traditional forms of epistemological skepticism about the existence of the external world and other minds. In the cogito Cavell comes to see the quest for the knowledge, hence the affirmation, of one’s own existence: a fragile affirmation of a self not as a metaphysical essence, but as a human creature in search of a proof of her existence in the face of isolation, exclusion, madness, and violence. What becomes of the self when her expressions are violently or indifferently denied? What are the possibilities opened by the act of affirming that, mad or sane, I am?


Andrew Norris, University of California, Santa Barbara

“Pragmatism and Disaster.”

Bio:  Andrew Norris is Professor of Political Science and Affiliated Professor of Philosophy and of Religious Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is the author of Becoming Who We Are: Politics and Practical Philosophy in the Work of Stanley Cavell (Oxford University Press, 2017) and of numerous articles on authors such as Wittgenstein, Hegel, Arendt, Heidegger, Locke, Kant, Thoreau, Carl Schmitt, Giorgio Agamben, Ernesto Laclau, Raymond Geuss, Michael Oakeshott, and Jean-Luc Nancy. He has also edited three books: Politics, Metaphysics, and Death: Essays on Giorgio Agamben’s Homo Sacer (Duke University Press, 2005), The Claim to Community: Essays on Stanley Cavell and Political Philosophy (Stanford University Press, 2006), and, with Jeremy Elkins, Truth and Democracy (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012).


Naoko Saito, University of Kyoto.

“Democracy as a way of life and An-archic Perfectionism: Rereading Conditions Handsome and Unhandsome.”

Bio: Naoko Saito is Associate Professor at the Graduate School of Education, Kyoto University. Her area of research is American philosophy and pragmatism and their implications for education. She is the author of The Gleam of Light: Moral Perfectionism and Education in Dewey and Emerson (2005), and co-editor (with Paul Standish) of Education and the Kyoto School of Philosophy (2012), Stanley Cavell and the Education of Grownups (2012), and Stanley Cavell and Philosophy as Translation: The Truth is Translated (2017). Her most recent publication is American Philosophy in Translation (2019).


In response to negative political emotions that threaten democracy at the level of people’s ways of living, this paper reexamines Stanley Cavell’s idea of Emersonian Moral Perfectionism as presented in his book, Conditions Handsome and Unhandsome: The Constitution of Emersonian Perfectionism (1990). It attempts to reread this particular text of Cavell as a testament to and enrichment of Dewey’s idea of democracy as a way of life – democracy as inseparable from human transformation and from what Cavell has called “the education of grownups.” Much as it resembles Dewey’s democracy as a way of life, however, there is reason to attend to Cavell’s warning, in Conditions, against the assimilation of Emerson’s perfectionism into Dewey’s pragmatism. One of the goals of this paper, then, is to elucidate Cavell’s persistent sense of the distance between his own ways of thinking (and his Emerson) and Dewey. In particular, I shall argue that attention to his idea of acknowledgment can enrich the reading of Conditions as a political text. From this perspective, I shall characterize Cavell’s Emersonian moral perfectionism as an-archic perfectionism and show how such perfectionism is needed today to fill the spiritual void of democracy.


William Rothman, University of Miami.

"On Richard Allen's 'Cavell and Hitchcock'"

Bio:William Rothman received his PhD in Philosophy from Harvard, where he taught for many years, and is Professor of Cinematic Arts at the University of Miami. He was the founding editor of Harvard University Press’s “Harvard Film Studies”series and Cambridge University Press’s “Studies in Film.” His books include Hitchcock—The Murderous Gaze, The “I” of the Camera, Documentary Film Classics, Reading Cavell’s The World Viewed, Cavell on Film, Jean Rouch: A Celebration of Life and Film,Three Documentary Filmmakers, Must We Kill the Thing We Love? Looking with Robert Gardner and Tuitions and Intuitions.


In "Hitchcock and Cavell," an essay published in the prestigious Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Richard Allen, a highly-respected film studies scholar, claims  that Hitchcock's films constitute counter-examples fo  "the truth of skepticism" and thus disprove what he calls "Cavell's philosophy." By showing in detail whyAllen's "refutation" o is fallacious, I hope to cast light on Cavell's ways of thinking philosophically.

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