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Jonathan Lear
Cora Diamond
Christine M. Korsgaard
Richard Moran
Robert A. Paul
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Harvard University Press
Pages: 224
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Vanity Fair has declared the Age of Irony over. Joan Didion has lamented that Obama’s United States is an “irony-free zone." Here Jonathan Lear argues that irony is one of the tools we use to live seriously, to get the hang of becoming human. It forces us to experience disruptions in our habitual ways of tuning out of life, but comes with a cost.

    eISBN: 978-0-674-06314-3
    Subjects: Philosophy, Psychology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VIII)
  3. Preface
    (pp. IX-XIV)
  4. Part One: The Lectures

    • 1 To Become Human Does Not Come That Easily
      (pp. 3-41)

      “To become human does not come that easily.” So wrote Søren Kierkegaard in his journal on December 3, 1854, and by now the claim would seem to be either familiar or ridiculous.¹ Ridiculous in the sense that for those of us who are human, becoming human was not up to us and was thus unavoidable; for those creatures who are not human, becoming human is out of the question. There is, of course, a distinguished philosophical tradition that conceives of humanity as a task. This is the familiar sense in which being human involves not just being a member of...

    • 2 Ironic Soul
      (pp. 42-72)

      In the previous lecture I argued that the experience of irony is an experience of erotic uncanniness. It is a significant form of pretense-transcending aspiring. Thus insofar as it is important to understand our capacity to aspire in ways that transcend the aspirations already embedded in social pretense, we need to understand better how this peculiar form of uncanniness works. I also claimed that it is possible to develop a capacity for irony: that is, a capacity to occasion an experience of irony (in oneself or another). One might have thought that since ironic experience is uncanny disruption, we must...

  5. Part Two: Commentary

    • 3 Self-Constitution and Irony
      (pp. 75-83)
      Christine M. Korsgaard

      I haven’t thought much about the topic of irony before, and when I was asked to comment on these lectures, my first thought was that Kantians probably are not very good at it. Kantians, as we all know, are nothing if not earnest. But if irony is what Jonathan Lear says that it is, then it is more than compatible with Kantianism. If it is what Lear says, then irony is just a special manifestation of the general human capacity that I have called reflective distance: the ability to get your own attitudes—in the practical case, your desires and...

    • 4 Irony, Reflection, and Psychic Unity A RESPONSE TO CHRISTINE M. KORSGAARD
      (pp. 84-102)

      I am amused by Professor Korsgaard’s claim that I “rewrote” the famous story Alcibiades tells of Socrates standing still. It puts me in mind of Bertrand Russell–inspired conjugations: “I interpret; You take liberties; He re-writes.” Actually, there is one excellent reason for preferring my interpretation to hers. And this is a way of opening up our more basic differences: over the nature of psychic unity and over the adequacy of her account of self-consciousness in terms of reflective distance.

      Let me first clear up a misunderstanding. Korsgaard says that Alcibiades says that Socrates stands still because “he’s thinking about...

    • 5 Psychoanalysis and the Limits of Reflection
      (pp. 103-114)
      Richard Moran

      In an 1896 letter to Wilhelm Fliess, the first and primary confidant for his fledgling ideas, the young Sigmund Freud wrote: “I see that you are using the circuitous route of medicine to attain your first ideal, the physiological understanding of man, while I secretly nurse the hope of arriving by the same route at my own original objective, philosophy. For that was my original ambition, before I knew what I was intended to do in the world.”¹ When philosophy is mentioned in his later, published, writings, it is normally an occasion for Freud to disavow any such connection with...

    • 6 The Immanence of Irony and the Efficacy of Fantasy A Response to Richard Moran
      (pp. 115-127)

      Richard Moran’s writing on self-consciousness, avowal, and expression has illuminated the field. We share a core belief, not common these days, that understanding psychoanalysis is of crucial importance if we are to grasp such philosophically significant concepts as self-knowledge and human freedom. Thus I am not surprised that we are in broad agreement. And when he says, in conclusion, that we still need to account for why the ability to express ourselves in words should have a privileged position when it comes to the forms of self-knowledge that have something to do with psychic health, I want to cheer. Let...

    • 7 Thoughts about Irony and Identity
      (pp. 128-153)
      Cora Diamond

      My comments start from a very general claim that Jonathan Lear makes about our life with the concepts with which we understand ourselves. I wondered whether it applied to all the cases it was meant to cover. But my original answer to the question I was asking led to more questions than I have been able to answer. In the first section below, I give the question from which I started and what I took to be the answer. In the second and third sections, I give some reasons for thinking that that answer was too quick and simple. The...

    • 8 Flight from Irony A Response to Cora Diamond
      (pp. 154-163)

      Cora Diamond’s illuminating comments are an evolving meditation. She quotes my statement that “it is constitutive of our life with the concepts with which we understand ourselves that they are subject to ironic disruption”; and she asks: “Are there no concepts with which we understand ourselves that are not subject to disruption in the way Lear describes?” Well, there are certainly concepts with which we understand each other that are not easily subject to such disruption. If one asks, for example,

      Among all the bores in the world, is there a single bore?


      Among all the hypocritical, pompous asses...

    • 9 On the Observing Ego and the Experiencing Ego
      (pp. 164-170)
      Robert A. Paul

      What sort of psychic unity is available to us? Early in his second lecture, Lear states that “getting the proper psychology in view will require us to rethink what it is to be a unified self. The unity that is genuinely available to us is, I think, marked by disruption and division,” and that the aim of unity, such as might be expected to emerge after a successful psychoanalysis, “should not be to overcome … disruptions, but to find ways to live well with them.” I agree and want to refine this idea, since perhaps unlike philosophers, who he claims...

    • 10 Observing Ego and Social Voice A Response to Robert A. Paul
      (pp. 171-176)

      Robert Paul reminds us of an important reason that psychic unity matters to us: the alternative is painful. Professor Paul is a distinguished psychoanalyst and anthropologist; and I want to thank him for being willing to join in a discussion with philosophers. Of any legitimate psychoanalytic theorizing, we ought to be able to see how it arises out of life experience. Obviously, we know very little of Paul’s patient. But we can use our imaginations to expand the case. So, imagine that you are Robert Paul’s patient. You have come to your regular Tuesday morning session, and Paul tells you...

  6. Notes
    (pp. 179-200)
  7. Commentators
    (pp. 201-202)
  8. Index
    (pp. 203-210)