The possibility of sacrifice: a Levinasian reconceptualisation of supererogation

Andrade, Julio Anthony (2018-12)

Thesis (PhD)--Stellenbosch University, 2018.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: This study offers a reconceptualisation of supererogation based on the ethics of Emmanuel Levinas. The study comprises two parts. In Part I, a critical analysis of supererogation, understood as encompassing moral acts that go beyond duty, is given. The analysis unfolds at the hand of the traditional – chiefly analytic – reading of supererogation, and centres on three ethical concepts that problematise supererogation: proximity (the physical and psycho-social distance between the moral agent and the recipient of his/her aid), asymmetry (between the spectator and the performer of a supererogatory act), and autonomy. The analysis examines both supererogatory acts and supererogatory attitudes. It is argued firstly that autonomy is not a necessary feature of supererogation; and, secondly, that a supererogatory attitude (preliminarily described as a primitive moral response that recognises the suffering of another as like my own) can be understood as constitutive of supererogation. Furthermore, it is argued that supererogation can be conceptualised without recourse to the grounding concepts of duty or obligation. In Part II of the study, the theoretical resources of the continental philosophical tradition are employed as a means to reconceptualise supererogation, and to overcome the difficulties identified in Part I. The case is made that the ethics of Levinas is well-suited to conceptualise supererogation, because both share a regard for the value of saintliness. An exegesis of Levinasian ethics is presented and unfolds by reinscribing the three supererogation concepts of proximity, asymmetry, and autonomy into Levinasian terms. In order for these reinscribed terms to constitute a meaningful reconceptualisation of supererogation, a circumscription of a Levinasian normativity – framed as an operationalisation of Levinasian ethics – is undertaken. It is argued that a Levinasian normativity operates as a recursive and provisional imperative, and that it is grounded on the undecidability between ethics and politics. The argument continues by claiming that the undecidability of Levinasian normativity also arises because each moral act, no matter how quotidian, contains within it the possibility of sacrifice. In conclusion, the study argues for a reconceptualisation of supererogation, sans obligation or duty, as the possibility of sacrifice, which operates as a recursive and provisional modality in response to undecidability.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Hierdie studie offer ’n herkonseptualisering van oordadigheid wat gebasseer is op die etiek van Emmanuel Levinas. Die studie word in twee gedeeltes uiteengesit. In deel een word ’n kritiese ananise van oordadigheid, wat omvattend verstaan word as ‘morele aksies wat hoër as pligte gesien word’, gegee. Hierdie analise openbaar, aan die hand van die tradisionele – hoofsaaklike analise -, die lesing van oordadigheid. Hierdie analise sentreer op drie etiese konsepte wat die problem van oordadigheid uitwys, nl: nabyheid (die fisiese en psigo-sosiale afstand tussen die morele agent en die ontvanger van sy/haar hulp), ongelykmatigheid (tussen die toeskouer en die deelnemer aan ’n oormatige aksie) en outonomie. Die analise ondersoek sowel die oordrewe aksies as die oordrewe houding.Daar word ook geargumenteer dat outonomie nie ’n nodige kenmerk van oordadigheid is nie, en dat ’n oordrewe houding, voorafgaande beskryf is as ’n oorspronklike morele aksie wat die lyding van ander soos myself erken en kan verstaan word as ’n samestelling van oordadigheid. Verder word geargumenteer dat oordadigheid sonder enige hulpmiddels of ’n grondslag van pligte of verpligtinge voorgestel kan word. In die tweede gedeelte van hierdie studie, gebruik die argument die teoretiese hulpbronne van die kontinentale filosofiese tradisie as middele van herkonseptualisering en oordadigheid, en om die probleme te oorkom wat in die eerste gedeelte van die studie geïdentifiseer is.Die saak is geformuleer dat die etiek van Levinas goed toespaslik is om konseptualisering van gedienstigheid, omdat albei waarde heg aan heiligheid. Die uitligging van Levinase etiek is voorgelê en ontvou met herskrywing van die drie oordrewe beginsels nl; nabyheid, asimmetrie en autonomie in Levinasiaanse terme. Om ʼn betekenisvolle gevolgtrekking uit hierdie herskryde herkonseptualisering oordrewe term te maak, word ʼn omskrywing van ʼn Levinasiaanse normativiteid ontwerp as ʼn operasionaliseringsraamwerk van Levinas se etiek, onderneem. Daar word geargumenteer dat Levinasiaanse normativiteit optree as ʼn herhalende voorlopige noodsaaklikheid en is gefundeer op die onvermoë om te besluit tussen etiek en politiek. Die argument word verder gevoer deur die aanname te maak dat die onvermoë om ʼn besluit te neem van die Levinasiaanse normativiteid nav ore kom omdat elke morele aksie, maak nie saak hoe alledaags, daarin die moontlikheid van opoffering bevat. Ten slotte, argumenteer die studie vir ʼn herkonseptualisering van oordadigheid sonder verpligtinge, as die moontlikheid van opoffering, wat opereer as ʼn rekursiewe en voorlopige modaliteit as ʼn reaksie op die onvermoë om te kan besluit.

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