January 27th, 2005

Asmodeus

Demanding Approval: On The Ethics of Alain Badiou

Demanding Approval: On The Ethics of Alain Badiou

What is ethical experience for Alain Badiou? What can be said of the subject who has this experience? Let me begin by trying to pick out the formal structure of ethical experience, or what with Dieter Henrich we can call `the grammar of the concept of moral insight',1 and explaining how such experience implies a conception of the subject.

Ethical experience begins with the experience of a demand to which I give my approval. Approval and demand: that is, there can be no sense of the good - however that is filled out at the level of content, and I am understanding it merely formally and emptily - without an act of approval or affirmation. My moral statement that `x is good or bad' is of a different order to the veridical, epistemological claim that `I am now seated in a chair.' This is because the moral statement implies an approval of the fact that x is good, whereas I can be quite indifferent to the chair I am sitting on. If I say, for example, that it would be good for parrots to receive the right to vote in elections, then my saying this implies that I approve of this development. Practical reason is in this way distinct from theoretical reason. In Badiou's terms, the order of the event (l'événement) is distinct from the order of being (l'être).

However, if the good only comes into view through approval, it is not good by virtue of approval. Ethical noesis requires a noema. In my example, my approval of parrots receiving the right to vote is related to the fact that - at least in my moral imagination - parrots make a certain demand, the demand for political representation. Ethical experience is, first and foremost, the approval of a demand, a demand that demands approval. Ethical experience has to be circular, although hopefully only virtuously so.

Leaving parrots to one side, in the history of philosophy (and also in the history of what Badiou calls anti-philosophy, namely religion), this formal demand is filled out with various contents: the Good beyond Being in Plato, faith in the resurrected Christ in Paul and Augustine, the fact of reason or the experience of respect for the moral law in Kant, the certitude of practical faith as the goal of subjective striving (Streben) in Fichte, the abyssal intuition of freedom in Schelling, the creature's feeling of absolute dependency on a creator in Schleiermacher, pity for the suffering of one's fellow human beings in Rousseau, or for all creatures in Schopenhauer, eternal return in Nietzsche, the idea in the Kantian sense for Husserl, the call of conscience in Heidegger, the claim of the non-identical in Adorno, and so on.2 All questions of normativity and value, whether universalistic (as in Kant in the categorical imperative, and his latter-day heirs like Rawls and Habermas) or relativistic (as in Wittgenstein on rule following and his latter day heirs like Rorty), follow from such an experience. Without some experience of a demand - that is, without some experience of a relation to the otherness of a demand of some sort - to which I am prepared to bind myself, to commit myself, the business of morality would not get started. There would be no motivation to the good, the good would not have the power to move the will to act. Kant calls that which would produce the power to act, the motivational power to be disposed to the good, `the philosopher's stone'. What is essential to ethical experience is that the subject of the demand assents to that demand, agrees to finding it good, binds itself to that good and shapes its subjectivity in relation to that good. A demand meets with an approval. The subject who approves shapes itself in accordance with that demand. All questions of value begin here.

Let me take this a little further. If we stay with the example of Kant, then this dimension of ethical experience or moral insight - the capacity of being motivated to the good - resolves itself, in a rather complex fashion, in the seemingly contradictory notion of the fact of reason. That is, there is a Faktum which places a demand on the subject and to which the subject assents. There is a demand of the good to which the subject assents, and this demand has an immediate apodictic certainty that is analogous to the binding power of an empirical fact (Tatsache). The difference between the apodicticity of a fact of reason as distinct from an empirical fact is that the demand of the former is only evident in so far as the subject approves it. It is, if you like (and Kant wouldn't), the fiction of a fact constituted through an act of approval. However things may stand with the doctrine of the fact of reason, Dieter Henrich argues, rightly I think, that the entire rational universality of the categorical imperative and Kantian moral theory follows from this experience of moral insight. The philosopher's stone would consist precisely in the link between the motivational power of the fact of reason and the rational universality of the categorical imperative. Now, because Kant's entire moral theory is based on the principle of autonomy, the fact of reason has to correspond to the will of the subject. The fact of reason is a fact, it is the otherness of a demand, but it has to correspond to the subject's autonomy. Hence, for Kant, the ethical subject has to be apriori equal to the demand that is placed on it. [more]

Asmodeus

(no subject)

badboy_badiou




who is this distinguished looking fellow? my book list has shifted: running with the deleuzians knocking off all things enochian with all things philosophical. badiou's ethics is top of the list. k-punk's keep going post had me searching to understand "a crisis of fidelity", "'keep going!", Immortals and simulacrums. These two reviews helped: one very short and simple and the other a bit longer. One positive and one negative about badiou's ethics. Simon Critchley's, Demanding Approval: On The Ethics of Alain Badiou was also extremely helpful.

Badiou's book makes a clean break with the statist tradition in ethics and proposes, instead, an entirely new perspective. In essence, Badiou asks, "What if, instead of supposing that the existing world is unchangeable, and that the role of ethical behavior is to adapt to this necessary evil as best we can, we were to think of it as the attempt to create a specific good adapted to every specific situation?" ... Badiou's book is meant to help us all decide how to be "faithful to the event"--i.e., to persevere in the construction of a good that a specific event in our lives gave us a glimpse of. —An Ethics for Activists?, by Nicolas Veroli

Badiou clearly has ambitions to found his own school and, to this end, has invented an entire vocabulary of "situations", "events" and "truths". But these terminological innovations cannot conceal that Badiou has nothing original to say ... Badiou's truths are not the universal truths of human nature on which the advocates of natural rights stake their case. His truths are revealed only in extreme "events", which lie outside the circuit of ordinary life. A truth is always a "break" with the "prevailing language and established knowledge of the situation". It is unique and incommunicable. It cannot be known, only "encountered". Ethical action consists in "fidelity" to such truths ... The problem Badiou faces is this: if ethical action (fidelity to a truth) cannot be justified in universal terms, how are we to distinguish it from plain wickedness? ... How does Abraham know for sure that it is God, and not the Devil, who is calling him to sacrifice his son Isaac? —Bogus philosophy, by Edward Skidelsky

i haven't the pleasure, yet, of reading badiou personally so everything i'm picking up is heresay. the problem with Skidelsky using Abraham as an example (is it god or the devil?) is that Abraham never doubted who he was talking with. people have been puzzled by Abraham's seemingly evil god because of this weird request. keep in mind, the story of Abraham appears in the Torah and Jewish thought concerning the nature of evil and the devil is different from the Christian idea.

imho, Critchley provides some clues to Abraham's experience:

Without some experience of a demand - that is, without some experience of a relation to the otherness of a demand of some sort - to which I am prepared to bind myself, to commit myself, the business of morality would not get started. There would be no motivation to the good, the good would not have the power to move the will to act. Kant calls that which would produce the power to act, the motivational power to be disposed to the good, `the philosopher's stone'. What is essential to ethical experience is that the subject of the demand assents to that demand, agrees to finding it good, binds itself to that good and shapes its subjectivity in relation to that good. A demand meets with an approval. The subject who approves shapes itself in accordance with that demand. All questions of value begin here. —Demanding Approval, by Simon Critchley

there is no mention, in Genesis 22:1-19, of any hesitation on Abraham's part concerning this request. as a matter of fact, at the foot of the mountain of sacrifice, Abraham instructs his servants to remain there until "we will come back to you". i would argue that this strange sacrifice supports badiou's argument because of three things emerging from this event: (1) Abraham's experience, (2) Isaac's experience (to know; to experience; to be initiated), and (3) a name of god (Jehovah-jireh, The Lord Will Provide).

the key to Abraham's experience, from a Christian pov, appears in Hebrews 11, which is called the Hall of Faith chapter:

Now faith (pistis) is the substance (hupostasis) of things hoped (elpizo) for, the evidence (elegchos) of things not seen (blepo). For by it the elders obtained a good report. Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear ... By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called: Accounting (pistis) that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead (nekros); from whence also he received him in a figure (parabole; "figuratively speaking"). —Hebrews 11:1-3 & 17-19, AV

someone with better linguistic skills than i needs to compare parabole with badiou's simulacrum. interesting: the root for similar is sem-1: one; also adverbially “as one,” together with. haploid shares the same root and involves the technology of touch. compare this with HAPTIC of 0(rphan)d(rift>), involving tactile tactics to re-engineer the body's sensory responses (you don't need enlightenment in haptic space).

thanks, k-punk. somebody finally put their finger on something. x marks the spot.

Asmodeus

The Comment

As to Part IV, The Book of the Law section, the idea was that the volume should comply with the instructions given in AL III,39: "All this and a book to say how thou didst come hither and a reproduction of this ink and paper for ever—for in it is the word secret & not only in the English—and thy comment upon this the Book of the Law shall be printed beautifully in red ink and black upon beautiful paper made by hand; and to each man and woman that thou meetest, were it but to dine or to drink at them, it is the Law to give. Then they shall chance to abide in this bliss or no; it is no odds. Do this quickly!" I mistook "Comment" for "Commentary"—a word-by-word exposition of every verse (and much of it I loathed with all my heart!) including the Qabalistic interpretation, a task obviously endless.

What then about AL III, 40? (also see attached) This problem was solved only by achieving the task. In Paris, in a mood of blank despair about it all, out came the Comment. Easy, yes; inspired, yes; it is, as printed, the exact wording required. No further cavilling and quibbling, and controversy and casuistry. All heresiarchs are smelt in advance for the rats they are; they are seen brewing (their very vile small beer) in the air (the realm of Intellect—Swords) and they are accordingly nipped in the bud. All Parliamentary requirements thus fulfilled according to the famous formula of the Irish M.P., we can get on to your other questions untroubled by doubt.

One Textus Receptus, photographically guaranteed. One High Court of Interpretation, each for himself alone. No Patristic logomachies! No disputed readings! No civil wars and persecutions. Anyone who wants to say anything, off with his head, and On with the Dance; let Joy be unconfined, You at the prow and Therion at the helm! Off we go. —Magick Without Tears, Chapter L: A.C. and the "Masters"; Why they Chose him, etc., by Aleister Crowley

[via Policy on Commenting on Liber AL]

AQ 666 = YOU AT THE PROW AND THERION AT THE HELM