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Franois Laruelle, Alyosha Edlebi

Qui Parle: Critical Humanities and Social Sciences, Volume 21, Number
2, Spring/Summer 2013, pp. 157-167 (Article)

DOI: 10.1353/qui.2013.0010

For additional information about this article

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Of Ethics in an Intense Technological Milieu

franois laruelle
Translated by Alyosha Edlebi

Ethics will have known several historical deaths. But beyond these
deaths in the Enlightenment, the de-Christianization, the murder of
the moral God, as beyond its fits and starts, assembling these ac-
cidents in the flux of a unique decline, there is a death-process of
ethics that fuses with the effectivity of its existence. This process
in which it does not cease to sink in an interminable fall, we call
Ethologos, the becoming-ethological of ethics. This formula must
be complicated, explicated, prolonged also by the following thesis,
which adds to it almost nothing, except the supplement of which it is
capable by itself: No known form of the occidental field of ethics is
still capable of furnishing a rule of life, a criterion or a basis for de-
cision, the principle of a legitimation of human existence when this
existence develops in an intense technological milieu. The problem
of legitimation begins to be posed when it is too late and there are
no more criteria of legitimation. Legitimation becomes a problem
when the problem of legitimation is no longer itself legitimate. To be
more precise, the etho-logical formation in which our existence
and our values are increasingly submerged functionswe must
grasp thisat once as a hypo-legitimation, an active lack of legiti-
mation affecting all of our behaviors, and as an over-legitimation in
158 qui parle spring/summer 2013 vol.21, no.2

which any behavior whatever is immediately justified and valorized

by means of its overdetermination by the others.
This mechanism of Ethologos has to be elucidated in itself and
in its relations to the conditions of over-technological existence
that are our own. But such a mechanism gradually proves to be
nothing other than the self-asphyxiation of the Decision. We lack
a concept and a criterion of the Decision that would render it pos-
sible anew. Because everything becomes possible, the possible is
rarefied and turns into effectivity. And the rarity of the possible
is unlike that of goods: it is distressing. If ethics has to be awak-
ened from its slumber, which makes up the life of our occidental
memory, it must indeed be awakened against universal Ethologos.
Doubtless, the strict conditions that prohibit this awakening from
being nothing more than a new avatar of old forms of ethics, and
of the Metaphysics that supported it, remain to be fixed. A legiti-
mation of ethics through the regressive return to something like a
foundation, an ontology, a theology, an onto-theo-logy, a Chris-
tian or transcendental personalism, a formal or material practical
reasonall of this is undoubtedly excluded here. Not only because
these games have already drawn out all their consequences and, in
multiple senses of this word, are interminable, but because all
of these possibilities are truly dead. Not in the sense that they
have vanished from our present historical horizon (repetition com-
pensating this type of loss is always possible), but on the contrary
because they have merged with this horizon and form henceforth
a part of our most immediate conditions of existence. There is no
need to resurrect love, justice, reason, values, and the person. They
are only too much there rather than not enough, and we need a
solid ignorance of repetition to believe so casually that we repeat
at will, when all of this already returned a long time ago and does
not cease returning without even passing by philosophy anymore.
Returned, and thus gone, infinitely gone as it were. If an ethics is
still possible, if the possible can be re-injected into existence, it is
beyond this effectivity, this carnival where love, justice, responsi-
bility, and the person do not stop revolving and communicating to
us the nausea of things, at times too drab, at others too brilliant.
The effectivity of our existence, it is Ethologos that constitutes
Laruelle: Etho-techno-logy 159

it, and thinkersoverburdened with their concern for legitimat-

ing ethicsalways arrive too late relative to Ethologos, which is
the whole possible legitimation. The question of ethicsis it still a
question, in fact, isnt every question onto-ethical, isnt it gathered
in Ethology?requires that we first determine its scope, thenbut
we will not tackle these tasks herethe conditions of possibility of
a non-metaphysical thought and, on its basis, the conditions of a
non-ethological ethics.
The history of occidental ethics is thus that of its necessary de-
cline into Ethologos. It unfolds in the space of onto-ethical or
etho-logical Difference, which is the ethical mode of the ontologi-
cal Difference of Being and being. Ethics having in effect begun
only as a particular mode of metaphysics, its decline follows that
of ontology. Its unfolding concludes under the form of universal
fusion of ethos and ethics, of both with technologos, in an etho-
techno-logos that is the condensation of all the historical forms of
ethics with the conditions of existence heavily regulated by tech-
nology. We cannot content ourselves with considering, in their em-
pirical generality, Technology and Ethics as such, in their forms
conserved as fossils by the fossilized traditions of Philosophy
[la philosophie] and its academic exercise. They are not tran-
scendent and exclusive themes or objects, which we would put in
relation after the fact; they have to be re-immersed in the universal
movement they constitute out of their fusion and out of their ap-
parent separation, understood still as the symptom of an etho-
techno-logical tendency that produces many others.
This universal tendency is the following: onto-ethical Difference
is simply the correlation of the individual and the rule, a synthesis
that appears self-evident but is perhaps, as synthesis, only Greco-
Occidental and thus planetary. This correlation of the individual
and the rule is the matrix of every possible ethics, at least of the
one that the philosophical West has known. It is innocent only for
us who have transformed it so much into a condition of existence
that we no longer notice it even, when it in fact implicates several
effects that explain the decline of ethics: (1) ethics as subsump-
tion of the individual to the rule; (2) a subsumption that has as
its counterpart the thoroughly relative transcendence, subject to
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accidents and becomings, of the rule to the individual; (3) finally,

the unity of these two phenomena in the mutual, reciprocal, revers-
ible ordering of the individual and the rule and in the ordering of
this relationship to its own synthetic unity (the and) in which it
is the onto-ethical correlation itself and in totality that is posited,
becomes principle or auto-position, the absolute that subordinates
its two components.
Hence the tragic or destinal essence, at once of the individual
and of ethics, which are engaged in a reciprocal and ill-fated strug-
gle for domination because they are both, in reality, ordered to the
supreme violence of onto-ethical Difference. Neither the individ-
ual nor ethics is truly emancipated; they are bound in an internal
struggle and a quarrel that philosophers treat as the ethical cause.
On one hand, ethics is condemned to gradually yet inexorably lose
its transcendence, to reinforce the coupling or the Same of man
and the rule. The Law is so little made for man that it is con-
demned, even though it should have been emancipatory, to chain
the individual more and more intensely, bringing it a supplement
of servitude, ethics as simple supplement to political, economic,
technical . . . servitude. On the other hand, the individual is forced
to locate its effective conditions of existence in a tissue of rules
or norms all and each of which have at once economic, political,
ideological, sexual, linguistic, and ethical . . . effects: if there are no
ethical (moral) phenomena, but only an ethical interpretation
of phenomena, it is because ethics has lost so much of its tran-
scendence, which was only relative to men, that any phenomenon
whatever comprisesjuxtaposed to others and overdetermined by
themwhat is nothing more than an ethical effect or aspect along-
side others. The result is a tendency that ties in two others at each
of its points. On one side, the continuous and certain ruin of ethi-
cal transcendence, which turns into a generalized ethology, merges
with the universal conditions of existence of modern man: the sole
rules that still apply to him and which could ensure his govern-
ment are in fact all complex, where the old ethical burden is un-
decidable, inseparable from determinations of other types (techno-
logical among others), etho-technology enveloping both ethics and
technology in the strict or scientifico-industrial sense. On the other
Laruelle: Etho-techno-logy 161

side, the product of this fusion which is immanent to onto-ethical

Difference and its process: the modern individual, thoroughly con-
ditioned by those rules that are more and more immanent to it and
which give it this bearing, this existence of a mummy fused with its
bandages, as one is with ones prostheses.
This unique and double tendency must thus be outlined a priori
just to render possible the apperception of its symptoms, those of
the becoming of ethics in an intense technological milieu. It merg-
es with a line of facts that punctuate the technological becoming
of ethics (techno-ethics) and the ethical becoming of technology
(etho-technology), the interface of Ethics and Technology which
are inseparable and, separated from their common boundary, are
abstractions. These facts, among others:
1. The affect of the Decisions deadlock spreads out in an unin-
terrupted manner; it is the experience not of the Decisions paraly-
sis but of the continuous extension of this paralysis that spreads
to all the levels and all the spheres of existence. The lack of a pos-
sible ethics, but above all the extension, even the intensification of
this lack, becomes a universal lived co-extensive with the intensifi-
cation of technological possibility.
2. A more profound aspect of the same global phenomenon: the
softening of the categorical imperative, which becomes at once im-
manent and universal. It is fragmented, disseminated, loses some
of its transcendence and rigor, some of its formal purity as well;
it becomes pluralized in innumerable rules: emergence of a micro-
ethics of everyday life that fills up all the spaces left empty or ex-
cluded as pathological (Kant) by pure ethics (profession, sexual-
ity, information, culture . . . of the individual are interpenetrated
by a more and more micrological one must or you ought);
fragmentation and universal extension of responsibility, in the
form of a soft responsabilization and imputation extended
to all the behaviors of existence; ceaseless fragmentation of tasks,
goals, responsibilities.
3. More profoundly still, an apparent dissolution of the categor-
ical imperative in an interminable and circular playinhibiting the
rational Decisionof means and ends, of the pure principle and
its applications. As if the rigor or rigorism of a pure and formal
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a priori principle of determination of the will blended in, without

being truly destroyed by the empirical or the material content of
acts, with the metaphysics of morals and the multiplicity of duties.
Moral Law merges with the technological, economical, sexual, ide-
ological . . . empiricity of individuals, but without truly losing its
rigor. It only loses the exclusive, classical rational form of transcen-
dence, but continuesfrom its universality become multipleto
dominate individuals, themselves raised to the state if not of rea-
sonable, then at least of over-rational or over-reasonable be-
ings. To each individual its maxims, but the maxims of the modern
human no longer need to be universalized, because its maxims run
less and less the risk of being pathological individual expressions
and because, for its part, reason alters in nature without ceasing to
dominate, and loses the transcendence of its traditional scientifico-
ethical contents. The fusion of duty (with a view to or out of
duty) with legality or conformity does not quite mean the destruc-
tion of formalism, but merely its becoming-immanent.
4. Finally, a radicalization and a universalization of the phenom-
ena of displacement and overdetermination of ends. As if hetero-
tely were generalized (hence the inhibition of the classical rational
Decision) and, in this very generalization, tended toward a homo-
tely; if not an identity, then at least a sameness of ends. It is the
fusion of an increased transversality of ends and means, duty and
its material content, and of their reversibility (any pure form of
duty representswithout losing its purity and formalitya ma-
terial or pathological content for another pure determination of
duty, and vice versa).
Those indices being marked, the term Ethologos has to be
understood correctly. The becoming-immanent of rules does not
signify their materialist reduction to a nature or to technology,
to a homo ex natura or a homo ex technologia (if we can invent
this Hellenism in Latin after the fact), but equally the a-parallel
transformation of nature and technology. The law reveals its es-
sence as custom, ethics its ethological essence. The fusion of ethics
and animal or social ethology (that of the man massively informed
by technology, that of Man-machine systems) transforms both of
them and produces a complex that in order to be absolutely ex-
act we should call etho-ethical, or in a still more precise fashion:
Laruelle: Etho-techno-logy 163

ethico-ethological. The immanent rule becomes continuous, or be-

comes custom, but does not entirely lose (in the face of technol-
ogy) its purity and its formality devoid of all content. The in-
telligible law of Duty passes not only to the state of a categorical
imperative (necessary for a reasonable finite being, says Kant, and
who, in order to have a pure will, lacks a saintly one); it pursues
its becoming by passing to the state of an immanent rule (necessary
when the more or less pathological material contents are under-
stood as essentially co-belonging to the form of the Law).
It does not lose, for this reason, its formality. The ethological
rule, that which is the correlate of the modern individual, is no
longer merely, like rational Law or practical Reason, a priori
synthesis of self and will. This synthesis, let us recall, is a mode of
onto-ethical Difference and involved in a history. It is an a priori
synthesis of self, which is to say, of onto-ethical Difference, and of
the multiplicities of conditions in which mans existence is embed-
ded (physiological, economical, cultural, linguistic, sexual, and so
on). Ethology is a response to the oldest problem of occidental eth-
ics, to the most ancient point of interrogation, that of the ethicity
or governmentality of human multiplicities. It is not a very origi-
nal response in relation to the question, but it owes its nature as
response to the fact that it only prolongs the question, that it is its
interiorization or its intensification. The Rule is always conceived
as a rule of principal and absolute synthesis, but it has now be-
come immanent and ensures the fusion of the most transcendent
forms of Law and Responsibility with the human material, which
for its part is transformed with a view to the common enterprise,
etho-techno-logy as absolutely conforming and unconditioned
The totality of those facts enables us to trace a curve that
traverses both Ethics and Technology as their interface, that goes
beyond or expels them both for new combinations. Reciprocal im-
plosion of ethical rationalism and technological rationalism in a
mixed formation. Beyond simple ethico-professional responsibil-
ity (the schema of Max Weber, which must not be generalized,
but universalized, not only extended to other spheres of existence
but intensified), there is a continuous process of responsabiliza-
tion, at once a co-extension of responsibility to any social rela-
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tions on which this new relation is grafted and which it hijacks, a

whole soft ethics adapted to the multiplicity of social and, above
all, technological relationsand an inverse co-extension of tech-
nology to all decisions, whatever they may be. Ethics also functions
as support for technological decision making, and technology, be-
sides its classical functions in production, as support for ethical
decision making. To the soft ethics apt for technology responds a
soft technology of responsibility. The generalization of processes of
decision-making support has the function of furnishing to each ge-
neric or specific type of decision a supplement, which is that of its
conditions of existence, conditions in which it becomes entangled,
loses its simplicity, makes use at the same time of short circuits and
detours, becomes paralyzed in its peculiar complexity.
Ethology is the destruction, in the process of being realized, of
the classical criteria of ethical reality, the destruction of the princi-
ple of ethical reality or its becoming-immanent. The parallelism of
ends and means or, better yet, of the pure form and the material of
duty, is partially subverted. Sufficiently to render the Decision more
and more improbable, insufficiently not to continue to condemn
man to the Decision. This man who must still decide, but who can
no longer cause a decision to emerge in its radical transcendence
beyond facts, and for whom every fact is immediately burdensome
or presents itself as a micro-project he has to undertake and with
the softened transcendence of which he must identify himselfhe
simultaneously experiments with the empirical (economical, politi-
cal, sexual) facticity of ethics and the ethicity of every existence.
He experiences daily, in the combination of their tragic knot, the
lack of legitimation of every ethics and the excess of legitimation
that weighs on the most innocent decisions. Compelled to further
his own misery, he witnessesimpotent and paralyzedthe dis-
memberment of his body, his language, his culture, his values, the
recombination of the obtained fragments according to laws that
are thosecrisscrossed, disjointed, and reversibleof a becoming-
technological of ethics and a becoming-ethical of technology. It is
the thoroughly conforming man: no longer to a state, a country,
a culture, a law, nor even to himself, but to Conformity itself. It
is the human type of conformity, conformity par excellence, that
is to say, incarnated and become the flesh of his flesh. There is
Laruelle: Etho-techno-logy 165

therefore an ethological parousia in which onto-ethical Difference

closes and winds on itself, manifests itself as equal to its unequal
essence of difference and returns to their vacuity all of the
already realizedattempts of a return to ethics. The being of
man is identical to the totality of his behaviors or his dis-positions;
it is the plenitude of onto-ethical dif-ference, impregnated with all
the never-taken decisions, itself the matrix of every possible be-
havior, ethical and/or technological. The parousia of ethics, eth-
ics sinking in parousia, lies entirely in this coincidence or this re-
ciprocal determination (without remainderit is the expulsion of
every indetermination) of the difference of the rule in relation to
man and the difference of man in relation to the rule. Making the
will, but finite and even affected by pathology, coincide with
the Law, but rid of the most exclusive, most separated or most
gregarious kinds of its formality and its transcendence, is the
peak of etho-techno-logical contemplation. We understand noth-
ing of the problem of ethics, its impasse, its predicament and the
tragic aporia in which it places every decision, so long as we have
not grasped that ethological manthat of the West and, by con-
sequence, the only planetary oneis embarked on the path of an
unheard-of saintliness, of a becoming-saint(ly) that resides in the
identification of his will and his etho-techno-logical conditions, of
his essence and his existence. In him, the individual and the rule,
or if you want, the Law of power and the power of the Law, af-
ter so many avatars and difficult obstacles, embark on a-parallel
but merging evolutions. In him, they are determined in a revers-
ible manner, absolutely without remainder or residuehence his
saintliness, which is also a wisdom, the first identification of saint-
liness and wisdomin order to forge out of their totality a general
economy of the decision.
The existence of the modern individual is a tissue of etho-
technological Games, in other words, immediately undecided deci-
sions, undecidable choices, inhibited ruptures, whose aporetic es-
sence makes it more crucial and more necessary to seek if and how
an absolute decision would be possible anew, without being simply
an avatar of the rational type of decision.
This parousia renders useless every ethical attempt that would
remain at the interior of Difference and would exploit its resourc-
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es. But, above all, it renders the Decision problematic. Ethical (and
not only ethical) conditions that would render a rational Decision
possible are no longer fulfilled. This Decision lets itself be over-
taken, from the inside and the outside, by an inertia, an inhibition
that has two aspects: one wholly relative to the conditions of lo-
cal existence whose mobilization is at stake; the other, global and
manifested by the emergence of an absolute figureless Undecidable,
but against which every decision, whatever its genus and species,
comes up more and more rapidly as against a movable yet un-
surpassable Limit, as this Limit gradually blends and merges with
the whole of everyday behaviors. Whence the more and more un-
graspable nature of every situation, inescapable to the exact extent,
paradoxically, that it is no longer simply a fact or a given at the
interior of the World, of History, or of a technical system, but sets
these horizons themselves in play each time.

Of course, the deadlock of decision making is the condition of ef-

fective possibility or the threshold of epistemological unlocking of
a Decision Theory, of the discipline that takes decision as its ob-
ject and which is itself only one of those techno-sciences that con-
tribute to deadlocking the effective decision. This Decision Theory
is one of the modes of Ethologos and, to this extent, has no need
for a supplement of ethics, for it is already, by its essence, the gath-
ering and fulfillment of every possible ethics. Decision Theory, if
not by its realization, then at least by its etho-logical essence, un-
derstands the decision in such a way that it aims to constitute it
as the universal ethical field, but devoid of ethical objects, ends or
rules. It renders decision the very ethicity of every ethical rule and
contributes to destroying ethical fetishism in the name of ethics. It
is one of the modes of fulfillment of the great rationalist ethicsat
once the critique of its most transcendent forms and the conserva-
tion of its content in ethicity, that is to say, in onto-ethical dif-
ference. The one and the other, Kantian ethical rationalism, for
example, and Decision Theory, as far apart as they seem to a meta-
physicians gaze, have the same locus, are both avatars of etho-
logical closure. Decision Theory is the sole possible ethics in an in-
tense technological milieu and under etho-technological conditions
Laruelle: Etho-techno-logy 167

or at least insofar as thought does not seek to shatter the original

onto-ethical difference.
Under what conditions, which would be neither illusory nor re-
gressive, is it possible from the outset to break ethico-ethological
Difference? It appears initially as incontrovertible, as encompass-
ing, as inhibitive precisely of every decision beyond or beneath
ethology as ontico-ontological Difference. The task is neverthe-
less clearly defined: it is useless and presumptuous to seek in the
Greco-Occidental ethical resources a given solution. Everything
is alreadywith the philosophical decision itselfconsumed and
gone in it. If ethics, that is, the possibility of an emancipatory deci-
sion of the individual and which is strictly its own, is possible, it
will not be discovered in the field of ethico-ontological Difference,
in the idea of a correlation between the individual and the rule
and in the reciprocal subjection of the latter and the former. But
how can we shatter the anthroplogico-ethical, ethico-ethological
mixture, how can we liberate the individual from the Law and re-
store to the Law a sphere of exercise that is no longer that of the
subjection of man? Is a form of thought possibleand does the
word possible retain a sense here?that no longer proceeds by
mixture and, among others, by difference, synthesis, and correla-
tion? Which would be capable of thinking the individual on the
basis of its essence alone, and this essence prior to every universal
or every law? Prior to every correlation with a rule, a city, a nature,
a state, a technology? And if this thought existed, undiscerned by
the principle of Greco-Occidental metaphysics, too immediate no
doubt to be noticed by the latter . . . , wouldnt the remainderless
destruction of the primacy and auto-position of ethico-ethological
Difference be the condition of a liberation of ethics itself, which
would finally evade its becoming-ethological? This is undoubtedly
another story [histoire]. And no doubt a whole other thing still
than a history [histoire] . . .

We would like to thank Vrin and Franois Laruelle for granting
their permission for this translation. Librairie Philosophique
J. Vrin, Paris.