“Was not their mistake once more bred of the life of slavery that they had been living?—a life which was always looking upon everything, except mankind, animate and inanimate—‘nature,’ as people used to call it—as one thing, and mankind as another, it was natural to people thinking in this way, that they should try to make ‘nature’ their slave, since they thought ‘nature’ was something outside them” — William Morris

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Problems with Badiouian Ethics

...the big one: he destroys ethics. There is a genuine differend here. A radical asymmetry between the “ethics” crew and the “politics versus ethics” crew.

How do you get from this:

the ethic of a truth: ‘Do all that you can to persevere in that which exceeds your perseverance. Persevere in the interruption. Seize in your being that which has seized and broken you.’ (Ethics 47)

—to an answer to this perfectly straightforward ethical question:

Do we force corporations to limit carbon emissions now?

Badiou's “ethics” are a kind of moral atomic bomb. Even Ayn Rand would answer this question more sensibly than Badiou, who just can't answer it, I claim. Of course, Ayn Rand wouldn't answer it as I wish. But she would answer it, as would a host of others.

There's a danger with trying for a one size fits all “ethics.” Nietzsche's utter repudiation of the possibility of moral rationality is the outcome of the Enlightenment's mistaken quest for a final and definitive argument that will settle moral disputes into perpetuity by power of a calculative reason alone...


Terence Blake said...

Badiou is quite Buddhist in your quote. You cite approvingly Reggie Ray's distinction between the large Self and the small self ("this idea or concept about ourselves that we are trying to maintain"). Maintain = persevere in. The large self doesn't have the structure of an egoic self (nonlocality/infinity oblige). So we can read Badiou as saying: Do all that you can to persevere in that which exceeds your ego. Persevere in the interruption of ego. Seize in your being the large self which has seized and broken your ego. Running to save the girl from the truck is not persevering in your animal being (ego), it is exceeding the ego count of the situation. So is fighting against global warming. So I think Badiou's ethical precept implies a "Yes!" to your question about forcing corporations to limit carbon emissions.
I would like to add a corollary to your excellent idea of "buddhaphobia". Those most phobic, like Zizek and Badiou, are in fact unconscious Buddhists, repressing and so repeating what they believe that they refuse.

Timothy Morton said...

That's right. My friend Marcus Boon is working on this.

Craig said...

Your question to Badiou is a legal and political question; not an ethical question per se. I have no investment in Badiou--I've barely read him and long ago--but your reply to him isn't especially fair.