Difficulties of Ethical Life

Difficulties of Ethical Life

Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: Fordham University Press
Pages: 200
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  • Book Info
    Difficulties of Ethical Life
    Book Description:

    This book brings the powerful insights of Continental philosophy to bear on some of the most challenging difficulties of ethical life. Currently philosophy is being radically transformed by questions of how to live well. What does such a way of life mean? How are we to understand the meaning of ethicality? What are the obstacles to ethical living? And should we assume that an ethical life is a betterlife? The movement of history and the developments of culture and knowledge seem to have outstripped the capacity of traditional forms of reflection upon ethical life to understand how we might answer these questions. Ranging from existentialism to deconstruction, phenomenology to psychoanalytic theory, and hermeneutics to post-structuralism, the twelve essays in this volume take up a wide but clearly connected set of issues relevant to living ethically: race, responsibility, religion, terror, torture, technology, deception, and even the very possibility of an ethical life. Some of the questions addressed are specific to our times; others are ancient questions but with quite contemporary twists. In each case, they concern the philosophical significance of ongoing historical, cultural, and political transformations for ethical living and thinking.

    eISBN: 978-0-8232-4771-4
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    It has long been recognized that the task of living well and justly has a special relation to the project of philosophy. From its origins, philosophy has made a claim to have a privileged relation to this task of thinking and living an ethical life. Only religion has made an equally serious claim on how it is that we are to understand and practice the ethical life. As a result of this deep kinship, the history of philosophy has, at crucial points, been shaped by the desire to pose and answer questions of ethical life: What does such a life...

  4. Part I: Questions of Ethics
    • 1 In the Name of Goodness
      (pp. 11-24)

      The wordgoodness, like the wordnature, carries a huge burden. Both words suggest orders of highly diverse things. They can suggest the availability of systematic comprehension and articulation of those things they name, a common quality that allows at least the promise of a harmonious whole.Goodnessoften operates in its meaning on an axis of virtues and sustained social practices. The meaning of the word seems to intend a community that is organized by right values, that is, by goods. It would be a community that carries a sense of goodness, a community enacted in the name of...

    • 2 What Is Philosophical Ethics?
      (pp. 25-34)

      The question “What is ethics?” carries the burden of seeming to be interesting, in no small part because so much is expected of philosophical ethics. If philosophy still receives the attention of a broader public at all and ethics is not dismissed as philosophy’s declaration of its own superiority, then it concerns above all the question of the good life and the correct comportment of self-interest. The reasons for this are generally familiar and thus call for only a brief recollection.

      The first reason lies in the technoscientific revolution of the moderns, which opened new possibilities of influencing and shaping...

    • 3 Hermeneutics as Original Ethics
      (pp. 35-48)

      Ethical questioning has always been defined by its essential difficulty: it is that realm of questioning that begins where the uncomplicated and the facile have ceased. One speaks of ethics only when there is difficulty; Immanuel Kant’s notion of “judgment,” especially as Hannah Arendt develops it, nicely captures the problem of ethical life as emerging out of an undecidability and the failure of theoretical knowledge. Nonetheless, even if ethics has always been a matter of the difficult, there seems to be a special and new form of difficulty defining the problematic of ethical thought today:the very idea of the...

  5. Part II: The Ethics of Intersubjectivity and Interpersonal Relations
    • 4 Ethical Experience, Ethical Subjectivity
      (pp. 51-71)

      For me, philosophy does not begin, as ancient tradition related by Aristotle contends, in an experience of wonder (thaumazein) at the fact that things (nature, the world, the universe) are, but rather with the indeterminate but palpable sense that something desired has not been fulfilled, that a fantastic effort has failed. One feels that things are not, or at least not the way we expected or hoped they might be. Philosophy begins in disappointment. Although there might well be precursors, I see this as a specifically modern conception of philosophy. To give it a name and date, one could say...

    • 5 9/11: America and the Politics of Innocence
      (pp. 72-87)

      On the one hand it seems obvious—righting the wrong suffered by the innocent victim is a necessary ingredient of a politics of justice. The agreed-upon justice of the allied cause in World War II and the agreed-upon injustice of the failure to intervene in the genocide in Rwanda testify to the rightness of this ethical-political intuition. The Geneva Conventions established after World War II, the U.N. war-crimes tribunals, and the human-rights treaties being negotiated at U.N.-sponsored meetings speak powerfully to the necessity of translating our ethical obligation to the innocent victim into concrete political practices. Things become difficult, however,...

    • 6 Engage the Enemy: Cavell, Comedies of Remarriage, and the Politics of Friendship
      (pp. 88-111)

      Of all the good things that we rely on for individual happiness, few are as important as friendship. This is true not only on a personal level. As Aristotle argues, cooperative bonds in the household and among citizens ground thriving political communities. Of course, modern-day liberals rightly reject Aristotle’s tight, conflict-free communitarianism for a more fluid, egalitarian, and multicultural society, but it is difficult to envision the ideals of politics, including citizenship and justice, apart from some strong sense of social bonds. The ontologically detached and excessively rational agent proposed by some liberal theorists obscures the attachments that bind us...

    • 7 The Intimacy of Strangers: The Difficulty of Closeness and the Ethics of Distance
      (pp. 112-128)

      One of the central themes of Plato’s work is the question, why be moral? Some of his most memorable and important dialogues are focused on the reasons why it is better to be moral than not, why it is better to be done wrong than to do wrong, why it is more noble to be just, and why to wish suffering and pain on our enemies is unworthy of beautiful souls. Plato links morality not just to reason but to the pursuit of happiness and to the beautiful soul, which is mirrored in the noble and just cityKallipolis. The...

  6. Part III: Responsibility and Race
    • 8 Before Whom and for What? Accountability and the Invention of Ministerial, Hyperbolic, and Infinite Responsibility
      (pp. 131-146)

      The termresponsibilityis so ubiquitous in discussions of ethics and politics today that it is easy to lose sight of the fact that it has been in use for only a little more than two hundred years and that philosophers have seen a need for it in ethics for only about half that time. More precisely, it is a term that cannot be found in classical Greek or Latin and indeed appears first as a noun only in French and English around 1787. In this essay I explore the history of the termresponsibilityin order to introduce a...

    • 9 Racism and Responsibility
      (pp. 147-161)

      Forty years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act and fifty years after the historicBrown v. Board of Educationdecision, members of racial minority groups are still disproportionately disadvantaged in American society. Despite official civic integration, despite a massive shift in the terms of public discourse, despite a publicly avowed moral and cognitive reorientation on the part of a significant number of whites, neighborhoods and schools are more segregated than ever, whites still control an overwhelming percentage of this country’s wealth and hold a virtual monopoly on elite corporate and governmental positions, the...

    • 10 Whiteness as Family: Race, Class, and Responsibility
      (pp. 162-178)

      It is all too easy to think of historical events in which white people have dominated, oppressed, and even exterminated people of color. Native American genocide, the Middle Passage and the enslavement of Africans, and the World War II internment of Japanese Americans are just a few of the most obvious examples from American history. Outside of militant racist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan, most people today agree that whiteness has had a shameful past. There is less agreement, however, about how antiracist white people should respond to their past and, in particular, to the racial category of...

  7. Part IV: The Ethics of Nontruth
    • 11 Narrating Pain: The Ethics of Catharsis
      (pp. 181-194)

      One of the most enduring ethical functions of narrative is catharsis. From the ancient Greeks to the present day, the healing powers of storytelling have been recognized and even revered. In hisPoetics, Aristotle spoke about the purgative character of representation as a double act ofmuthosmimesis(plotting-imitating). More specifically, he defined the function ofkatharsisas “purgation of pity and fear.” This comes about, he explains, whenever the dramatic imitation of certain actions arouses pity and fear in order to provide an outlet for pity and fear.¹ The recounting of experience through the formal medium of plot, fiction, or...

    • 12 On Deception: Radical Evil and the Destruction of the Archive
      (pp. 195-212)

      It is not often noted that the problem of deception occupies a central place in Hannah Arendt’s analysis of totalitarianism. At the outset ofThe Origins of Totalitarianism, prior to her analysis of anti-Semitism, imperialism, or radical evil, she raises the issue of deception, considering the difference between ancient and modern sophists and their relation to truth and reality:

      Plato, in his famous fight against the ancient Sophists, discovered that their “universal art of changing the mind by arguments” (Phaedrus261) had nothing to do with truth, but aimed at opinions which by their nature are changing, and which are...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 213-238)
  9. Contributors
    (pp. 239-242)
  10. Index
    (pp. 243-256)