File spoon-archives/lyotard.archive/lyotard_2001/lyotard.0111, message 32

Date: Thu, 8 Nov 2001 16:18:52 -0500 (EST)
Subject: Re: Ethics as a Figure of Nihilism

I can see how this sort of "ethics" might be at work in someone like
Ferry, but there seems to be very little here that resembles Lyotard's
thought - and nothing that has much in common with the approach to ethics
of folks like Derrida. 


Shawn P. Wilbur  |  |         

On Wed, 7 Nov 2001, Mary Murphy&Salstrand wrote:

> This chapter begins with the statement that "ethics designates above
> all, the incapacity, so typical of the contemporary world, to name and
> strive for a Good...resignation in the face of necessity together with a
> purely negative, if not destructive, will.  It is this combination that
> should be designated as nihilism."
> What Badiou considers as the realm of necessity is one that is
> synonymous with ethics as the figure of the logic of Capital.  The role
> ethics plays is to organize subjectivity and public opinion to ratify
> what seems necessary.  Since this economic realm is sacrosanct, the
> roles of ethics becomes restricted to a secondary position.  
> The important issues are predetermined and remain unexamined by ethics.
> All its judgements of value remain within the context of economics, the
> necessary. What must be done is no longer a matter of principle, but
> merely a matter of practicality - what is effective under the existing
> circumstances.
> In this way, ethics acts as an implicit denial of truth.  For what is
> characteristic of truth is that it bores a hole in established
> knowledges.  Truth is the only thing for all and therefore stands
> against dominant opinions which work only for the benefit of some,
> namely those who benefit from this so-called necessity.
> The way this applies to 'concern for the other' is as follows.  The Law
> in the form of human rights is always already there.  It has been
> pre-established.  There is, however, no question of reconsidering this
> Law and thereby going beyond it.  
> Like economics, the Law is governed ultimately by the conservative
> identity that sustains it.  The Law is simply another word for
> necessity.  As Badiou points out, from a psychological point of view, in
> the end such an ethics is governed by a will to nothingness, a death
> drive.
> This leads to the shiver that is felt when the Other comes too close,
> when Evil knocks at one's own door.  For at its core, ethics remains
> simply the power to decide who is to live and who is to die.  Ethics
> regards with pity those victims who are being-for-death.  It condescends
> to help, but only to the extent that these victims choose what is
> necessary as opposed to what is true. Otherwise, ethics transforms these
> victims into criminals who must then be destroyed. 
> Badiou next discusses euthanasia and bio-ethics. He remarks that ethics
> "allows death to go about its busines, without opposing to it the
> Immortality of resistance."
> He compares this to Nazism which had a very thoroughgoing ethics of
> Life.  The distinction it made was to distinguish between a dignified
> life and an undignified one - to uphold the one and to destroy the
> other. 
> Badiou argues that similarly today, the conjunction of bio (genetic
> engineering, euthanasia etc) with ethics in the hands of abstract
> committees is threatening in similar ways.  "Every definition of Man
> based on happiness is nihilist."  He says.
> In other words ethics is used to enforce our happiness by imposing
> conditions of misery based upon necessity on those who potentially
> threaten our superior condition - to improve the white man and destroy
> the monster - without recognizing the extent to which the one depends
> upon the other.
> Ethics is the interweaving of an unbridled and self-serving economy with
> the discourse of law. It dooms 'what is' to the Western mastery of death
> - conservative propaganda with an obscure desire for catastrophe.  (like
> those American conservatives who aren't afraid of global warming because
> Jesus is coming back anyway.)
> Only be affirming truths against this desire for nothingness can
> nihilism be overcome - against the ethics of living-well whose real
> content is the deciding of death, there stands an ethic of truth.
> eric


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