File spoon-archives/lyotard.archive/lyotard_2001/lyotard.0112, message 139

Date: Sat, 29 Dec 2001 20:57:25 +0000
Subject: Re: libidinal ethics (kant/hegel)


Perhaps more today than in other times, there is a duty written into 
those of us on the left to remember those causes that seem lost or 
resting in these triumphant days of  globalistion and empire... the 
memories consisting mostly of the seemingly perverse dreams and broken 
hopes associated with those leftist progammes. Any ethics associated 
with this kind of thing cannot be considered beyond the scope of this 
'duty', perhaps it would be the ethics of  things and causes, the Ethics 
of the Real, as the psychoanalyst would say of this 'it always returns 
to its place...'. so lets start with a personal rehash of Kant and 
Hegel... (wishing i could reach for the texts from the shelf...but they 
aren't there...)

The standard (neo-)hegelian criticism of Kantian and neo-kantian ethics 
that it always fails  to take into account the socio-historical 
situation in which the subject is placed, where the subject exists and 
which provides the determination of what constitutes the good; or indeed 
the evil.  What evades any formalism of the Kantian kind is the 
aforementioned socio-historical specificity of the substance of what 
constitutes an ethical existence. Of course the amusing thing about 
Kantian indeterminacy is that it does not tell me what my duty will be 
merely that I should accomplish my duty... doomed by our supposed 
indeterminacy. The object of the kantian ethics is that we human 
subjects have the responsibility of translating the abstractions of 
'moral law' into contemporary obligations.... the real.... The strength 
of the Kantian position is that since the ethical subject bears full 
responsibility for the universal normative values it follows. The 
formalism mentioned constructs the break between the ethic and the real. 
To clarify - you cannot relay on the actual contents of the local 
ethical tradition for this tradition is translated, mediated by the 
human subject, it exists through this translation. To avoid this 
becoming solely local ethical perspectives, in which an ethical subjects 
values are only available through a relationship to the local ethical 
tradition, is not through some absurd appeal to 'universal values' but 
by accepting the indeterminate nature of ethical values. In Kantian 
terms these are translated into positive norms through the subjects 
engagement. Universal Ethical Values (UEV) are derived from the subjects 
proposal that they are. The Hegelian critique (which is looking 
interesting) is the rejection of the categorical imperative as the tool 
by which we test an ethical imperative as to whether we should follow it 
or not. Hegel's proposal is that there is no moral law which frees us 
from the responsibility of its content. Hegel wants us to recognise that 
the fact that the subject is a universal subject means that we cannot 
assume that the content will enable the tracing of the ethical activity 
in advance, accept the indeterminacy and disengage from the specifics of 
the event/situation through percieving it as being limited and thus 
achieve a relation to the universal, since the universal is only 
achievable through  disengagement from the particularity of the subjects 

Hegel and Lacan argue that it is feasible to go beyond good and evil, 
beyond universal moral law and the associated guilt into the Freudian 
concept of the 'Drive' which Zizek (somewhere or other (I'm writing this 
from notes...) ) states is the same as Hegel's 'infinite play of idea 
with itself...' They go beyond this to suggest that 'diabolical evil is 
another name for good itself' what this proposes is that contrary to the 
Kantian notion of universal moral law - which Kant admits is 
epistemologically inaccessible to the subject - but more significantly 
state that the difference between good and evil is purely formal and 
ultimately is actually associated with their relationship to the human 
subject.  The hegelian response is to propose the dialectic of radical 
evil and universal moral law...

At this time I stop... pause...frown... surely 'universal moral law' and 
all the other 'universals' I have just been using sounds contrary to the 
postmodern death of grand narratives?  didn't 'universal moral law' lose 
its legitmacy along with 'emancipation'.  For if modernity, as Lyotard 
said, gained its legitimacy through having future projects, as a 
normative characteristic of modern existance, and the grand idea was 
'emancipation' (hence the premature declaration of death of marxism) 
which gains its meaning from what it rebels against, what it negates. 
But the emancipated life was always in the future, undefined, unknowable 
(the big Other as lacan would call it)- a status that is remarkably 
similar to that of 'universal moral law'. It appears to me that the 
universalising ethics may be as much an illegitimate grand narrative as 

Bartoszweski speaking of the moral responsibility of those who survived 
the holocaust said 'Only those who died bringing help can say that they 
have done enough...'  suggesting that life-long and eternal guilt is a 
requirement.  A proposal that is morally and ethically bankrupt - and 
possibly even a little stupid - since it implies that only the 'heroic' 
can be ethical.

Rather ethics must be practical and everyday and contrary to the heroic 
stances normally associated with ethical behavior.


>What I want to open up for discussion here is a psychoanalytical reading
>of ethics. You have alluded to this yourself, but so far you haven't
>gone into this in any great detail.
>What I would like to discuss is this very possibility of linking
>psychoanalysis with ethics in order to create a libidinal ethics in
>which the categorical imperative is reconfigured as a drive, based upon
>desire.  (I will, therefore I can.... I can't go on, I will go on). 
>Also, how does ethics in this sense link to Lyotard's reading of the
>ethical in general and of Kant specifically? What is the relation of the
>ontological sublime (as opposed to the merely aesthetic sublime) to
>ethics in this sense?


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