Ethics and the Witness

In Heidegger, Hypocrisy, and a Ruse of Rhetoric, it was noted that, where ethics is essentially a devotion to interrupting the indifference with which being processes by acting non-indifferently towards and entirely for the sake of each encountered other in its concern for its own continuing-to-be, a particular thorough, extreme rationalism might seem to succeed in assigning ethics to non-being inasmuch as ethics cannot consistently or rationally accommodate the utilization or exploitation of beings which is necessary for the continuing-to-be which is being.

It was also noted that what such reductive thinking cannot establish, in itself, is that non-being is assuredly a matter of non-reality or unreality. This is because all that such reductive thinking does is establish that ethics (of the sort purported to interrupt the indifference of being with non-indifference towards and for the sake of an other) is not an occurrence inherent to the process of being itself. This is to say that, with regards to ethics, non-being is only a matter of non-inherence within being, and what the reductive thinking does not establish is that this non-inherence is sufficient for non-reality.

On the face of it, the notion that ethics can be a matter of non-being and can also be real or can be part of reality will seem absurd to those who identify being as reality and reality as existence. The apparent absurdity derives, in large part, from the sense that the prefix non- indicates a negation, a nullification, and therefore the most stark sort of incompatibility. However, inasmuch as the non-being of ethics is only a matter of the non-inherence of ethics within being, to say of ethics that it is not an occurrence inherent to the process of being itself is not to say that ethics is incompatible with being in the sense that ethics can never occur within being. Accordingly, ethics is posited as an event which, when it is effected, is an occurrence within being which is non-inherent to being; ethics is itself something other than being; it is otherwise-than-being.

Although this ethics is not inherent within being, in order for an ethical event to be effected within being, it is necessary that inherent to being is the possibility for acting non-indifferently for the sake of an other. What the reductive thinking which seems to (or seeks to) eliminate ethics never establishes is the non-inherence within being of the possibility for acting non-indifferently for the sake of an other.

Given that the purest rationalism allows for the possibility of reality as inclusive of both being and non-being (or, more precisely, other-than-being), the question most likely to follow would regard whether there is any evidence from within being of the otherwise-than-being of ethics. From within being, evidence for acts of ethics would appear as anomalies – as other than the indifference with which being processes, as other than beings being concerned about their own continuing-to-be and, instead, acting entirely for the sake of an other.

However, most such anomalies are quite easily explained away in terms of being itself – where the alleged otherwise-than-being of ethics is reduced to the processes inherent to being itself. For example, a mother who puts her own well-being or even her life at risk as she protects her child from an attacker can be – and often is – described as being “programmed” to act that way (where the alleged programming is purported to eliminate the possibility for acting otherwise in that very circumstance).

A kindness extended to some stranger will be resorbed as just a matter of being rather than accepted as evidence for an instance of otherwise-than-being by explaining that the kindly person either has some hope of receiving some sort of recompense – even if just an acknowledgment of the kindness – or the kind person acts kindly in order to feel better about himself or herself. The point about the extended kindness is supposed to be that there is a reward which regards the acting person’s concern with his or her continuing-to-be, and that reward is germane as an improvement to the quality of the kind person’s own continuing-to-be.

Of course, explaining away these sorts of apparent anomalies in such a fashion does not establish that these anomalies are not – and cannot be – indicative of ethics as otherwise-than-being. Likewise, such a manner of explaining away those apparent anomalies does not speak to the quality or strength of the evidence that might be provided by those anomalies. Instead, that explaining away only notes that such anomalies are not proof of the otherwise-than-being of ethics being effected within being.

But such anomalies are not to be expected to serve as proof of the otherwise-than-being of ethics. Indeed, for so long as these sorts of anomalies remain ensconced in presentations from the third person point of view, they are hardly evidence at all. These anomalies can only become recognized as evidence in accord with whether someone has his or her own sufficiently similar experience of otherwise-than-being, of acting non-indifferently towards and entirely for the sake of an other. This is to say that the anomalous becomes evidence according to the extent that it finds a first person perspective: The anomalous becomes evidence to a witness, and that evidence has testimony as its mode of expression.

To be continued …

This entry was posted in Ethics, Morality, Philosophy, Philosophy of Religion, Religion and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Ethics and the Witness

  1. Pingback: Heidegger, Hypocrisy, and a Ruse of Rhetoric | The Kindly Ones

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