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Hodge: An ethical questioning


domingo 23 de abril de 2017, por Cardoso de Castro

Extrato de HODGE, Joanna. Heidegger and ethics. London: Taylor & Francis, 2001, p. 15-17.

My central contention is that there is an urgent need for a retrieval of the notion of ethics, which is under way but not   yet completed, and that there are elements of it to be found in Heidegger’s work. This retrieval is needed if there is to be such a re-emergence. What I hope to show is that, as a result of an extreme refusal of an ethical problematic in Heidegger’s thinking, it is to that extent possible to read it as a site for a retrieval of ethics. However, ethical construction is a collective undertaking; it is metaphysical construction which gives the appearance of being accomplished by isolated individuals independent of community. Thus, I cannot provide a definitive statement of what that transformation might consist in. The guiding thought of this enquiry is taken from the 1949 introduction to the 1929 lecture ‘What is metaphysics?’: ‘the essencing of metaphysics is something other than metaphysics’ - ‘das Wesen   der Metaphysik   [ist] etwas anderes . . . als die Metaphysik (WM: 363). The use of [16] ‘essencing’ here to translate ‘ Wesen ’ captures two aspects of Heidegger’s term: that it is verbal and that this notion of essence is one of process not of substantive states. I thus claim that this ‘something other than metaphysics’ is not, as Heidegger would seem to have his readers believe, ‘das Sein  ’ or ‘das Nichts  ’, ‘being’, or ‘nothing’, as the obverse of a realm of entities, of what there is, of Seiendes  . This ‘something other’ is the possibility of a different stance in relation to what there is, a recognition of its temporary nature, in contrast to a false metaphysical presumption that its status is one of permanence. This is the human stance of finitude, not the impossible stance of eternity.

It becomes possible to suggest that it is not just human existence which is a temporary state. Both what it is to be human and the status of what there is can be seen as temporary and in transition. The difference between an ethical and a metaphysical form of questioning then becomes one of recognising or refusing to recognise the transitory nature of what is to be theorised; ethical questioning makes available in theories of what there is a recognition of its alterability. This alterability according to Heidegger results from shifts in the sendings of being, the Seinsgeschick. This alterability makes it possible for there to be different answers in different epochs to the metaphysical questions: what is there? what is truth? what is identity? Refusing the possibility of such shifts makes it completely mystifying how there could be distinct metaphysical systems which construe what there is in drastically different and incompatible ways. If an interdependence between metaphysical questioning and ethics is denied, then ethics is the other which, by its absence, constitutes the essence of metaphysics. Life is taken for granted and wholly subordinated to the ramifications of reasoning; life becomes the unaddressed condition of possibility for philosophical enquiry. Life, when subordinated to reason, becomes technical and monstrous. In this context, the only way in which life can make itself felt is as death; and if individuals fail to construct a relation to their own individual deaths, then there is an ever widening opening for the development of the kind of man-made mass   death to which Wyschogrod, in her study Spirit in Ashes: Hegel  , Heidegger and Manmade Mass Death, draws attention. [1] The denial of any interdependence between ethics and metaphysics is taken to its limit in the actualising of metaphysics as technology, in which human responsibility is elided to the utmost degree in favour of a logic of technical development. This erasure of human responsibility in all its deficiency, however, is still a question of responsibility. There is still in this erasure a question of ethics at work and there is still a question about the flourishing of human beings. ‘I was only following orders’ is still an ethical stance, although evidently a deficient one. Once an interdependence between metaphysics and ethics is accepted, then ethics becomes a way of developing an understanding of multiplicity and alterability, by contrast with metaphysics as the site for the construction of singleness and fixity. Ethics becomes the other of metaphysics and thus definitively disrupts metaphysics. Ethics as the other of metaphysics is then not a single other, mutually interdependent with and definitively distinguishable from metaphysics. It is an other which disrupts and displaces all such stable opposition.

An ethical questioning is distinct from a metaphysical one, in eliciting not a single answer but multiple responses. Ethical questioning is essentially relational, making reference back to the questioner as well as to the process of questioning. The identity of the questioner is in question in ethical questioning. This, however, is also true of the fundamental ontology set out in Being and Time  ; and it is to this theme in Being and Time that I shall work back in the course of this book. Ethical questioning is concerned with the processes at work within questioning itself. It is concerned as much with its own conditions of possibility as with providing analysis of any preselected problem. Ethical questioning works backwards, analytically, to reveal its own conditions of possibility. Metaphysical questioning, by contrast, is concerned with producing a result, with an end posited as independent of the process of enquiry. Thus metaphysical enquiry has the form of poiesis  , leaving the identity of the questioner unquestioned; by contrast, ethical enquiry has the form of praxis  , transforming the identity of the enquirer. If completable, metaphysical questioning would result in a simple, transparent, perlucid structure, graspable in its entirety. This is the Durchsichtigkeit   of Heidegger’s Being and Time. Appearances to the contrary, this result cannot be attained, since the appearance of perlucid simplicity is achieved at the cost of denying and concealing the ethical conditions of possibility for there being enquiry at all. These ethical conditions of possibility demonstrate themselves in Being and Time as the irreducible ambiguity, facticity and fallenness of Dasein  . (p. 15-17)


[1See Edith Wyschogrod for a discussion of the phenomenon of mass death in relation to the philosophy of Hegel and of Heidegger: Spirit in Ashes: Hegel, Heidegger and Man-made Mass Death, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985.