Much work in the humanities continues to be driven by the conviction that the study of culture can contribute to, in Matthew Arnold’s words, “diminishing human misery.” Nonetheless, there are difficulties inherent in claiming an ethical imperative for one’s work, when fields such as Postcolonial Studies have recorded so well the misery that arose out of a moral mission to civilize.
Historical events have and continue to ensure our scepticism of the capacity of human beings to follow the ethical imperative to love one’s neighbour as one loves one’s self. The radical critique offered by poststructuralism has and continues to ensure our scepticism of the validity of the ethical imperative itself. In light of this difficulty, theorists such as Judith Butler have offered ethical models informed equally by a psychoanalytic examination of the psychic drives involved in ethical behaviour and a philosophical examination of existential drives involved in ethical behaviour. However, the ethical models on which she draws, those of Giorgio Agamben and Emmanuel Levinas, contain significant contradictions. In particular, both theories make implicit links between authority, duty to others, and the role of the father or male citizen. Thus, the increasing popularity of the models of ethics offered by these two philosophers ought not to go unchecked by an inquiry into the extent to which patriarchal relations of power are integral to their understanding of ethical responsibility. In short: must one love one’s neighbour as one’s father? To paraphrase Freud: “Why should we do it? What good will it do us? But, above all, how shall we achieve it? How can it be possible?”
|Keywords:||Ethics, Agamben, Levinas, Butler, Patriarchy, Feminism, Poststructuralism|
Assistant Professor, Institute of Women's Studies and Department of English, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
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