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The Origins of Responsibility

Raffoul (2010:4-7) – Responsabilidade


terça-feira 20 de junho de 2023, por Cardoso de Castro

Ironicamente, essa “ideologia de responsabilidade” predominante é muitas vezes acompanhada por uma negligência singular da reflexão genuína sobre os sentidos da responsabilidade, sobre o que significa ser responsável. A responsabilidade é simplesmente assumida como significando a responsabilização [accountability] do agente livre.

Nietzsche  ’s critique of morality opens the way for a new engagement with the concept of responsibility, henceforth freed from its association with a metaphysics of will and subjectivity. Thus, for example, Sartre   posits human existence as absolute responsibility based on the withdrawal of essence, and situates the origin of ethics and responsibility in the disappearance [5] of a theological foundation for values. Human existence is identified with an absolute responsibility for itself based on the surge and self-invention of a groundless freedom. Heidegger rethinks being-responsible in terms of our answering the call of being, and rethinks the ethical by way of a critique of the metaphysical tradition   of ethics and a meditation on human beings’ sojourn on the earth as ethos  . He understands Dasein   as an ethical notion and our relation to being as one of responsible engagement. Levinas   defines the self as a responsibility for the other human, and breaks with Kantian universalism by situating ethics in the encounter with the singular other. Levinas further defines the self as a responsibility for the other human, devotion to the other in his or her vulnerability or mortality. Derrida   understands deconstruction as responsiveness that engages— aporetically—in a responsible decision. Responsibility itself is defined as an experience of the impossible. We see the notion of responsibility articulated in terms of phenomenological responsiveness, rather than in terms of the autonomy of the subject. It is clear that in such a context, responsibility itself will be entirely rethought in a novel and original way, away from an ideology of subjectivity, will, and power. Whether explicitly or implicitly, these continental thinkers allow for a rethinking of ethical responsibility as they take issue with traditional models of it, that is, with the model of accountability.

Indeed, the concept of responsibility has traditionally been associated, if not   identified, with accountability, under the authority of a philosophy of free will and causality which itself rests upon a subject-based metaphysics. Responsibility is conceived in terms of causality as ground of the act or of the event. For instance, Hegel   writes that

An event, or a situation   which has arisen, is a concrete external actuality which accordingly has an indeterminable number of attendant circumstances. Every individual moment which is shown to have a condition, ground or cause of some such circumstance and has thereby contributed its share to it, may be regarded as being wholly, or at least partly, responsible for it. [1]

Accordingly, one is accountable as a subject who is the cause of his or her actions through the freedom of the will. [2] Accountability, as a concept, thus assumes the position of a subject-cause, an agent or an author who can be displayed as a subjectum for its actions. Such, for instance, is Kant  ’s definition   of accountability or imputability (Imputabilität) in the [6] Third Antinomy of the Critique of Pure Reason, [3] which he situates in the “transcendental   freedom” of the subject, who is capable of absolutely and spontaneously beginning a new series of causes. Identified with the concept of accountability, responsibility thus designates the capacity of an agent to be the cause and ground of its acts. The unceasing calls for responsibility in contemporary culture are always calls to such agency, to the position of a subject-cause. And this insistence as such deserves scrutiny. One might ask at the outset: What concept of responsibility does it seek to reinforce? What lack does it aim at supplementing? What shortcoming is it trying to compensate? What irresponsibility is it trying to suppress, exclude or negate? From what danger does it aim at protecting it? These questions already take us to the heart of the matter. And thus the concept of a ‘subject-cause’ (along with its unavoidable accompaniment, a system   of control and punishment), this ‘ready-made,’ guiding metaphysical interpretation   of the concept of responsibility—namely, accountability as indication of the power of a masterful and willful subject—is left to rule exhaustively over the hermeneutic domain of responsibility.

Ironically, this predominant ‘ideology of responsibility’ is often accompanied by a singular neglect of genuine reflection on the senses of responsibility, on what it means to be responsible. Responsibility is simply assumed to mean the accountability of the free agent. An ironic situation to be sure, if it is quite irresponsible not to know what responsibility means while one is calling for it! In Derrida’s words, “not knowing, having neither a sufficient knowledge or consciousness of what being responsible means, is of itself a lack of responsibility. In order to be responsible it is necessary to respond to or answer to what being responsible means.” [4] The issue, as Derrida makes clear, is to reengage a philosophical questioning on ethics, that is, to problematize the ethicality of ethics itself, its very possibility, without presupposing its senses, for instance, through the scheme of application. To understand ethics as an applied discipline forecloses the possibility of raising the indispensable prior question of the ethicality of ethics. The notion of application indeed assumes a ground for ethical precepts. But it maybe the case that ethical judgment—as Heidegger, Sartre, Levinas or Derrida would show—takes place in an ungrounded way, indeed, becomes only possible from such groundlessness: For Heidegger, being happens without a ground and the call of conscience has no author and no foundation; for Sartre, responsibility arises out of the groundlessness of [7] existence, and ethics has no ‘a priori   Good’ to rely upon; for Levinas, ethics arises out of a concern for an infinite other, and not from a rational basis; and for Derrida, responsible decision takes place as a leap and absolute risk beyond knowledge, in an abyssal experience of the undecidable. [5] Applied ethics is thus the name of an ethics whose meaning is not reflected upon and which is inappropriately understood in terms of the theory-praxis  , model-application schemas. At stake is a philosophical reflection on the meaning of responsibility, so often covered-over by a problematic of accountability.

In Beyond Good and Evil, Nietzsche already took issue with a so-called “science of morals” in which there is always something lacking— “strange as it may sound: the problem of morality itself; what was lacking was any suspicion that there was something problematic there.” [6] In §345 of The Gay Science (book 5), under the title “Morality as a Problem,” Nietzsche also suggests quite plainly that it is a matter of problematizing morality and its value, that is, of questioning it, as opposed to taking it for granted and leaving it unquestioned. For even if a morality has grown out of an error, the realization of this fact would not as much as touch the problem of its value. Thus nobody up to now has examined the value ofthat most famous of all medicines which is called morality; and the first step would be—for once to question it. Well then, precisely this is our task. [7]

This task can be taken as the urgency of a questioning on ethicality as such. Insisting on the necessity and urgency of raising anew the question of the ethical, of making it problematic, indeed aporetic, Derrida thus writes:

All this, therefore, still remains open, suspended, undecided, questionable even beyond the question, indeed, to make use of another figure, absolutely aporetic. What is the ethicality of ethics? The morality of morality? What is responsibility? What is the ‘What is?’ in this case? Etc. These questions are always urgent. [8]

Ver online : François Raffoul

[1G. W. F. Hegel, Elements of the Philosophy of Right, ed. Allen W. Wood, trans. Η. B. Nisbet (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 143, §115.

[2Later in his Philosophy of Right, Hegel states that “I can be made accountable for a deed only if my will was responsible for it” (ibid., 144, §117).

[3Kant writes: “The transcendental idea of freedom is far from constituting the whole content of the psychological concept of that name, which is for the most [306] part empirical, but constitutes only that of the absolute spontaneity of an action, as the real ground of its imputability; but this idea is nevertheless the real stumbling block for philosophy, which finds insuperable difficulties in admitting this kind of unconditioned causality.” Immanuel Kant, The Critique of Pure Reason, trans. Paul Guyer and Allen W. Wood (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 486, A 448/B 476. Hereafter cited as CPR, followed by A and B edition pages.

[4Jacques Derrida, The Gift of Death, trans. David Wills (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1996), 25. Hereafter cited as GD, followed by page number. In fact: “We must continually remind ourselves that some part of irresponsibility insinuates itself wherever one demands responsibility without sufficiently conceptualizing and thematizing what ‘responsibility’ means; that is to say everywhere” (G D, 25).

[5As Larry Hatab explains, “The search for a decisive ground in ethics can be understood as an attempt to escape the existential demands of contention and commitment. Moral ‘decisions’ and the sense of‘responsibility’ for decisions may in fact be constituted by the global undecidability of ethical questions.” Lawrence J. Hatab, Nietzsche’s On the Genealogy of Morality: An Introduction (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 241.

[6Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Vintage, 1989), 98. Hereafter cited as BGE, followed by page number.

[7Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science, trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Vintage, 1974), 285. Hereafter cited as GS, followed by page number.

[8Jacques Derrida, “Passions,” in On the Name, ed. Thomas Dutoit (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1995), 16. Hereafter cited as P, followed by the page number.