Varieties of Pragmatism: Architectural Objects Made Moral

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In Architecture Philosophy, Vol. 2 Nr. 1, 2016. 

This paper departs from a problem that architects often face: do they really have to choose between their interest in the production of built objects (in their shape, their spatiality, etc.) and their commitment to broader social concerns? Must architects focus on social concerns at the expense of the built object in order to be morally responsible? These questions touch on the relations between autonomy and criticality which have been fiercely debated in recent architectural theory: does criticality rest on autonomy? After introducing these controversies and disentangling the notion of autonomy at their center, I propose to look into the philosophical tradition of pragmatism as offering a way out. Following some recent interpretations of pragmatism, this paper addresses the possibility of an immanent critique, the reconciliation of ethics and aesthetics, the way ethnographies show architectural objects as active participants in design practice, and investigates how a pragmatist view of ecology invites sensitivity to objects’ moral claims.