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Philosophy After Nature

Rahel Jaeggi

Rahel Jaeggi

Rahel Jaeggi has been a Professor for Practical Philosophy with Emphasis on Social Philosophy and Philosophy of Law at the Humboldt University in Berlin since 2009. She has received her M.A. at the Free University in Berlin/Germany and her PhD at the Goethe University Frankfurt/Germany and has been teaching at the Goethe University from 1998-2009. In 2002/2003 she was Visiting Assistant Professor at Yale University. In Sept./Oct. 2012 she was Visiting Professor at Fudan University, Shanghai. Her areas of specialization are social philosophy, political philosophy, ethics, philosophical anthropology, social ontology.


Recent publications include:

Keynote “Critique of Forms of Life”, 3 September, 15:30h


Is a critique of forms of life possible? Does it make sense to say that they are good, successful or even rational? Since Kant it is considered common sense that happiness or the good life, other than that which is morally right, cannot be determined philosophically. And since Rawls the ethical content of forms of life is often considered indisputable in virtue of the irreducible ethical pluralism of modern societies. The political order of the liberal constitutional state presents itself as a way of organising this coexistence that is itself ethically neutral towards different forms of life. Matters concerning the way we ought to lead our lives then become „privatised”. As in matters of taste forms of life then cannot be a matter of dispute.

In my paper I argue that the “burden of proof” should be reversed: Questions concerning the forms of life we live in cannot simply be extracted from our individual as well as from our collective deliberation processes. Every social formation has always already given a specific answer to them. And this is also true for that social form that has made the pluralism of forms of life its primary matter of concern. But this means that, in a certain way, the question about the possibility of a critique of forms of life has not been put correctly. Not in spite but because of the situation of modern societies the issue of the possibility of such a critique cannot simply be abandoned into the reservation of particularistic preferences and commitments resistant to further analysis.

If thus political liberalism’s “ethical abstinence” reaches its limits the issue of criticizing forms of life can only be adressed in a fruitful way if one goes beyond the constraints of the  „ethics“ vs. „morality“ or the „good life vs. morality“ or the „right vs. the good“ framework and deals with the question of what forms of life are and how they operate. Forms of life, so I will argue, are „inert bundles of social practices“ that are normatively structured in a certain way. A practice-theoretical approach therefore opens up the possibility to adress the specific rationality and the specific normativity of forms of life. Adressing the subject this way we are no longer in the realm of ethics alone but in the realm of social theory or even of social ontology.

My main thesis will be: Forms of life are instances of problem solving. They deal with what I would like to call problems of a second order; problems that share some important characteristics with what in a Hegelian spirit might be called practical contradictions. As such, they can succeed or fail. They can be rational or irrational, appropriate or inappropriate. But then: Taking into account the malleability and variety of human forms of life it might neither go without saying what “problems” are nor what there “solution” might look like. So we need to go a step further: The success or failure of forms of life as strategies to solve problems can only be judged procedurally – as the result of a successful or failed processes of problem-solving.