File spoon-archives/lyotard.archive/lyotard_2001/lyotard.0111, message 11

Date: Sun, 04 Nov 2001 08:50:01 -0600
Subject: Does Man Exist?

This is the title of Chapter 1 of Badiou's Ethics.  Here is its recap.

Badiou begins with the observation that 'ethics' has had a resurgence
today.  He remarks that the "return to the old doctrine of the natural
rights of man is obviously linked to the collapse of revolutionary
Marxism, and of all the forms of progressive engagement that it
inspired."  Steve is probably right the so-called "new philosophers"
such as Glucksmann and Ferry are the intended references here, but it
should be noted than they receive no explicit mention in the text.
(There is only the lonely exile of a single footnote.)

Against this trend, Badiou states that Foucault, Althusser and Lacan had
all argued against this conventional natural and spiritual identity of
Man and that to a certain extent, the debate can be framed as one
between 'humanism' and anti-humanism'.   Badiou writes: "In reality,
there is no lack of proof for the fact that the thematics of the 'death
of man' are compatible with rebellion, a radical dissatisfaction with
the established order, and a full committed engagement in the real of
situations, while by contrast, the theme of ethics and of human rights
is compatible with the self-satisfied egoism of the affluent West, with
advertising and with services rendered to the powers that be. Such are
the facts."

This return to ethics and human nature is marked by four

1. It posits a human subject.
2. It subordinates politics to ethics and to a single universal
perspective of the spectator.
3. It derives the Good from Evil and not vice versa.
4. It defines 'human rights' negatively as rights to non-evil.

Thus, the emphasis of such ethics is to concentrate upon what must be
forbidden as opposed to what can be achieved and it thus ignores
completely the underlying situation of unbridled self-interest in which
it finds itself contextualized, the politics in which it is situated.

The heart of the question for Badiou is to be found in this presumption
of the universal human Subject which entails the importance of human
rights and humanitarian action.  It chief postulate for Badiou is that
'man is the being who is capable of recognizing himself as a victim.'

Badiou rejects this viewpoint for three reasons.

1. To identify 'man' as victim is to reduce 'him' to mere animal
nature.  Badiou does not deny animality, but argues this is not the
totality of who we are.  There is also what he calls 'The Immortal,' a
someone who runs counter to the temptation of wanting-to- be-an-animal
to which circumstances may expose him.  'Every human being is capable of
being this immortal- unpredictably in circumstances great or small, for
truths important or secondary.'
2. This ethical consensus is founded only on the recognition of evil.
This approach is implicitly a denial of 'The Immortal.' "To forbid him
to imagine the Good, to devote his collective powers to it, to work
towards the realization of unknown possibilities, to think what might be
in terms that break radically with what is, is quite simply to forbid
him humanity as such."
3. From this negative and a priori determination of Evil, ethics
prevents itself from thinking the singularity of situations as such,
which is the obligatory starting point of all properly human action.

Badiou propose three alternative theses to this ethics of the victim.

1. Man is to be identified by his affirmative though, by the singular
truths of which he is capable, by the Immortal which makes him the most
resilient and most paradoxical of animals.
2. It is from our positive capability for Good that we are able to
identify Evil.
3. All humanity has its root in the identification in thought of
singular situations.  There is no ethics in general.  There are only -
eventually - ethics of processes by which we treat the possibilities of
a situation.

This concludes the summary of Chapter 1.


(the book uses traditional masculine gendering and I have maintained it
here for the purposes of discussion.)


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