Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Freedom and the Ethics of the Couple: Irigaray, Hegel, and Schelling

Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Freedom and the Ethics of the Couple: Irigaray, Hegel, and Schelling

Article excerpt

In a time of war, it might be tempting to think that philosophers have nothing to say, or that what they can say must be tempered by the exigency of action, the overwhelming prevailing power of the practical. In this essay, which traces Irigaray's complex reading of Hegel and its proximity to the critique of Hegel's contemporary, F. W. J. Schelling, the current drive toward war might be read as a symptom of a misguided historical, philosophical position on nature and culture in general, and of the family and sexual difference in particular. I ask the question whether Irigaray's envisioning of an originary nondialectical difference might in some way illuminate the collusion, seen explicitly in Hegel's philosophy of history and philosophy of right, of oppositional dialectical progression with the necessity of war.

In reading Irigaray's critique of Hegel and its proximity to that of Schelling, I suggest that what is at stake is more than a metaphysical disagreement. Rather, Irigaray envisions the transfiguration or reconceptualization of spiritualization, origin, and family-into a process that retains duplicity and difference rather than moving toward a grand synthesis-as opening the possibility of a culture that can retain difference without always seeking to encompass, overcome, and incorporate it. This inclusion of difference right at the very source of being might point to a way to promote peaceful mutual renewal through the interaction of diverse influences. all this, I argue, is at stake in Irigaray's ethics of the couple.

In a 1987 essay entitled "Each Sex Must Have its Own Rights" Irigaray comments:

We are driven to compete in the rat race of modern life-so maddened and overwhelmed by the pace of existence that we embrace war as a means of regaining some measure of order and opening some new space onto the future. This was often true in the past. It will continue to be so if we fail to set up an ethics of the couple as an intermediary place between individuals, peoples, States. Wars break out when peoples move too far from their natural possibilities, when abstract energy builds up so much that it can no longer be controlled by subjects or reduced to one or more concrete responsibilities. (Irigaray 1993c, 5)

In the Philosophy of Right Hegel expresses a similar thought without the pejorative tone. he writes, "War is the state of affairs which deals in earnest with the vanity of temporal goods and concerns ... this is what makes it the moment in which the ideality of the particular attains its right and is actualized" (Hegel 1967, §324 R). Wars arise, according to Hegel, whenever spirit needs to regenerate itself, when a particular state has become so complacent that it no longer has the conflict within it necessary to maintain itself. For Irigaray, then, war is an unfortunate and avoidable result of human digression from its natural (i.e., dual) possibilities, whereas for Hegel war is a necessary historical means to lift human endeavor from its natural tendency toward torpor and regenerate spirit. There is a parallel in the arguments here and yet an enormous difference in the evaluation of this phenomenon. This essay will examine what Irigaray might mean by an "ethics of the couple" as a way to preclude moving "too far from . . . natural possibilities," and its relation to Hegel's understanding of concrete freedom as historically realized in the state, both here articulated in the context of polemics. I will argue that Hegel's distinction between morality and ethics plays an important role in her vision of a non-oppressive politics, her "ethics of the couple" or "ethics of sexual difference" reflects F. W. J. Schilling's anti-Hegelian ontology of freedom and aims to fundamentally transform Hegel's vision of ethical life, a vision that arguably still structures Western political thought today in important ways.

Schelling's importance for the history of philosophy arguably depends on the reasons for his critique of Hegel (Bowie 1993, 127f). …

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