The Origins of Walter Benjamin's Concept of Philosophical Critique

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Abstract

Focusing on Walter Benjamin's earliest pieces dedicated to school reform and the student movement, this article traces the basic critical approaches informing his mature thought back to his struggle to critically implement and transform the theory of concept formation and value presentation developed by his Freiburg teacher, Heinrich Rickert. It begins with an account of Rickert's work, specifically of the concept of Darstellung (presentation) and its central role in Rickert's postmetaphysical theory of historical research (which he characterizes as exclusively concerned with the Kantian quid juris). It shows that Rickert develops a speculative but practical theory of value recognition, which nevertheless leaves the status of value itself undetermined. Contra Rickert, Benjamin returns to the ignored quid facti, or origin of value, and shows that a metacritical, postmetaphysical approach such as Rickert's ultimately limits possible experience rather than grounding it. This basic insight, it is argued, is the cornerstone of Benjamin's concept of critique.

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