Date of Award

Spring 2020

Document Type

Open Access Thesis



First Advisor

Michael K. House


Michael Fischer early commented that in “Cavell’s work, literature is always bringing to mind philosophy, and philosophy is always opening itself to literature, generating a dialogue that transforms each one.” (3) For Cavell, this dialogue unfolds around the philosophical problem of skepticism. Romanticism around 1800 was not only invested in questioning the differences between philosophy and literature, but also absorbed by the problem of skepticism. The specific combination of literature and skepticism, however, changes the appearance of the latter. In order to show how this takes place, the first chapter is dedicated to an interpretation of skepticism as philosophical problem in Stanley Cavell’s work. The goal of this chapter is to show how skepticism as a moral problem is not caused by the failure of human knowledge but by its success. Hence, the fundamental emotion of skepticism is the disappointment in the human, which often appears as a suppression of the human voice. This motif will be followed in the second chapter, dedicated to the problem of skepticism in Kant’s philosophy, as well as its transformation in romantic theory. Kant’s attempt to make skepticism unintelligible involves his idea of the human as being of two worlds, and the recovery of its voice as intelligible being in following the moral law without interest. Romanticism follows Kant’s image of two worlds but rejects the ideal of indifference. Their goal is to reawake an interest in one’s humanness, which Novalis calls the “romanticization” of the everyday. They imagine this as a process of Bildung, invoking the idea of following an “image” (Bild), an ideal of one’s perfectibility. The danger of such educational project, however, is to follow false images of perfection that wish to overcome the human. The third and final chapter, therefore, is dedicated to the analysis of these images in Heinrich von Kleist’s prose, with special focus on Das Erdbeben in Chili and Die Marquise von O…. It will be shown how skepticism in Kleist circles around the suppression of the Other and how the overcoming of skepticism requires the acceptance of one’s separateness to this Other, which Cavell calls acknowledgement.