Questioning Ethics: Contemporary Debates in Philosophy

By Mark Dooley; Richard Kearney | Go to book overview

8

THE EXPERIENCE OF THE ETHICAL

David Wood

The importance of concepts to ethical life is not too difficult to grasp. We owe to concepts like “justice,” “rights,” “duty,” “virtue,” “good,” “responsibility,” and “obligation” our very capacity for ethical judgement. And yet the work of clarifying and codifying the scope and significance of these terms is the source of another danger—the calculation of our responsibility, in which the ethical as an openness to the incalculable is extinguished.

In his “Letter on Humanism,” 1 Heidegger tries to revive ethics as ethos, as abode or dwelling, and, in an example which is truly exemplary, he interprets Heraclitus’ location of the gods in his hearth as his way of thinking “dwelling” as the preservation of the unfamiliar in the familiar.

In “Eating Well,” 2 Derrida describes the “subject” as the principle of calculation, and it is for this reason that Heidegger’s displacement of a certain topos of subject-hood in his essay “Language” 3 is presented in terms of a transformation of our dwelling in relation to language. Heidegger writes:

Language speaks. Man speaks in that he responds to language…. It is not a matter here of stating a new view of language. What is important is learning to live in the speaking of language. To do so we need to examine constantly whether and to what extent we are capable of what genuinely belongs to responding… 4

What we call the activity of a subject (speaking) is conditional on something else—something more “middle voice” than a passivity. 5 But it is important to realize that “conditional on” does not mean limited by, or undermined by, quite the opposite. Heidegger is rethinking authenticity here, not in terms of some restrictive sense of “mineness,” but in terms of an openness (or responsiveness) to an Other (language). The idea of responding to language is of course a strange one, employing a term

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Questioning Ethics: Contemporary Debates in Philosophy
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Introduction 1
  • Part I - Hermeneutics 3
  • 1 - Memory and Forgetting 5
  • 2 - Imagination, Testimony and Trust 12
  • 3 - Narrative and the Ethics of Remembrance 18
  • References 32
  • 4 - The Politics of Memory 33
  • 5 - Ethics and Lifeworlds 44
  • Part II - Deconstruction 63
  • 6 - Hospitality, Justice and Responsibility 65
  • Notes 83
  • 7 - Reason, History, and a Little Madness 84
  • 8 - The Experience of the Ethical 105
  • 9 - The Ethics of Exclusion 120
  • Notes 130
  • Part III - Critical Theory 133
  • 10 - Three Normative Models of Democracy 135
  • 11 - The Problem of Justice in a Multicultural Society 145
  • Notes 161
  • 12 - Enlightenment and the Idea of Public Reason 164
  • 13 - Paradigms of Public Reason 181
  • Part IV - Psychoanalysis 199
  • 14 - In the Name-Of-The-Father 201
  • 15 - Revolt Today? 220
  • 16 - The Original Traumatism 230
  • Part V - Applications 243
  • 17 - Some Enlightenment Projects Reconsidered 245
  • 18 - Questioning Autonomy 258
  • 19 - From Ethics to Bioethics 283
  • Index 294
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