This contribution proposes a continuity between Walter Benjamin’s Jetztzeit and Hermann Cohen’s ethical concepts of the ideal and messianic temporality (as found in his Ethik and Religion der Vernunft). In Benjamin the “historical task” and the ethics pertaining to the conscious subject and collective agent (in his Theses, the generations, the oppressed masses) are founded on the autonomy of Kantian reason and a concept of time that is not empty and mechanical but full, intensive, and redemptive; the time of the Bible and prophecy, where the eternity of the idea and historical contingency coincide and mirror one another (in the idea of happiness and sunset, as referred to in the Theologish-politisches Fragment). The infinitude of the “new” cognitive, ethical, and political concept proposed by Benjamin is intensive and realized in a “present time” in which historical consciousness redeems the past and provides guidance for praxis. Benjamin’s formulation here owes a great deal—although inverting his predecessor’s idea of ethics linked to the future through the moment of remembering and the political interruption of the course of history—to Cohen’s Judaic-messianic concept of ethics and the relation of temporality to eternity, incorporating elements of Cohen’s approach to sanctity, humanity, justice, and peace in history, as well as to his anti-ontology and ethical anti-eschatology.
Tagliacozzo, T. (2020). Etica e messianismo: un confronto tra Walter Benjamin e Hermann Cohen. ARCHIVIO DI FILOSOFIA, 88(1), 109-122.