UFPPC ( www.ufppc.org ) Digging Deeper CLII March 7,
2011, 7:00 p.m.
Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil
(London and NewYork: Verso, 2002). Translated by Peter Hallward. This translation firstpublished 2001; original French edition published 1993.
The ethics advanced by thecontemporary era is nihilistic; in order to saveethics, it must be defined as an "ethic of particular truths." This is the ethics that protectsagainst
(but "radicalEvil" does not, according to Badiou, exist).]
Translator's Introduction .
Badioudistinguishes a realm of knowledge, which isalways "structured in dominance," and a realm of truth, which through a subjective procedureevades this domination by an "event" that breakswith the ordinary situation in the domains of art,love, science, or politics; ethics has to do withfidelity to this event (vii-xvi). The relation of hisapproach to Lacan and Kant (xvi-xxi). Badiou'sethics is "so fundamentally at odds with the viewthat generally prevails in the Anglo-Americanacademy as to be almost unreadable" (xxi-xxii).Badiou abandons contemporary ethics' focus onotherness (xxi-xxx). Some questions for Badiou(xxx-xxxv).
Notes on the Translation.
Badiou's languageis unproblematic (xlix-li).
Preface to the English Edition.
This book wasprovoked by the "'ethical' delirium" of the 1990s,after the end of the Cold War (liii-lv).Ideologically, the ex-Maoist Badiou regretsnothing; he favors dissolving NATO and theInternational Criminal Court (lv). From thetheoretical point of view, this is an unfinishedwork (lv-lviii).
By taking issue withcontemporary discourse on ethics, this bookproposes a completely different understanding of ethics (1-3).
Ch. 1: Does Man Exist?
The ideology of therights of man is based on natural rights; it isreactionary and out-of-date (4-5).
I. The deathof Man?
The philosophy of the 1960s was theopposite of indifferent to humanity (5-7).
II. Thefoundations of the ethic of human rights.
These foundations, which are based on Kant andpretend to be self-evident, are in factunsustainable (8-10).
III. Man: Living animalor immortal singularity?
This ethics is foundedon the idea of man "
as a victim
" (10). In reality,the worst ordeals demonstrate man's capacity toaffirm himself as something "
other than a mortalbeing
" (12; 10-12). The ideology of man asvictim is a mask of power (12-13). This ideologyalso makes of collective action a source of evil(13-15). It does not take into account "singularsituations" (15-16).
IV. Some principles.
Threetheses: 1. Man defines himself positively. 2. Evilis founded on the refusal of positive action. 3.There are only situations. "There is no ethics ingeneral" (16).
Ch. 2: Does the Other Exist?
It is Lévinas whogave priority to
I. Ethicsaccording to Lévinas.
Summary of Lévinas(18-20).
II. The 'ethics of difference.'
Multiculturalism derives from this philosophy(20).
III. From the Other to the Altogether-Other.
But Lévinas's reasoning on the Same andthe Other is illogical (21-23).
IV. Ethics asdecomposed [
It is a"pious discourse without piety," as we see by thefact that "the self-declared apostles of ethics . . .are clearly
horrified by any vigorously sustaineddifference
(23; 24, emphasis in original; 23-24).
V. Return to the Same.
We must abandon thisentire approach in order to return to the questionof the Same.
VI. 'Cultural' differences andculturalism.
A sort of tourist colonialismunderlies the present passion for other cultures,but these differences are of "no interest forthought" (26; 26-27).
VII. From the Same totruths.
Truths by definition are the same for all:this should be the basis of ethics. But "ethicsdoes not exist. There is only the "
(of politics, of love, of science, of art) . . . it isimpossible to speak of
Ethics" (28, emphasisin original; 27-28).
Ch. 3: Ethics as a Figure of Nihilism.
Thecontemporary world cannot "strive for a Good"(30).
I. Ethics as the servant of necessity
.Badiou denounces contemporary politics as at theservice of Capital (30-34).
II. Ethics as the'Western' mastery of death.
Ethics is nihilisticin its negativity (34-35).
Euthanasia as an exemplary case (35-38). But"every definition of Man based on happiness isnihilist" (37).
IV. Ethical nihilism betweenconservatism and the death drive.
Since"our societies are without a future that can bepresented as universal," ethics alternatesbetween conservatism and "a murderous desire"(38). We must instead affirm the "possibility of the impossible," as in "every loving encounter,every scientific re-foundation, every artisticinvention and every sequence of emancipatorypolitics" (39).