This chapter presents Cavell’s Emersonian perfectionism as a response to and interpretation of Kant. For Cavell, receptivity is the key to Emerson’s inheritance of Kant’s theoretical philosophy, as partiality is the key to his inheritance of Kant’s practical philosophy. Partiality for Emerson names both the individual agent’s inherent lack and its want for change and growth. The shameful experience of lack is the precondition for the transformative encounter with an exemplary other who enables the self’s conversion of the nihilistic conformity of everyday life as it is now lived. The chapter argues that Cavell’s insistence that Emersonian perfectionism sets itself against any idea of ultimate perfection does not condemn Cavell’s agents to an endless and hence nihilistic pursuit of an unrealizable telos, as it might seem, but instead furnishes the basis for democratic hope.
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