Giving an Account of Oneself
What does it mean to lead a moral life?In her first extended study of moral philosophy, Judith Butler offers a provocative outline for a new ethical practice-one responsive to the need for critical autonomy and grounded in a new sense of the human subject.Butler takes as her starting point one's ability to answer the questions What have I done?and What ought I to do?She shows that these question can be answered only by asking a prior question, Who is this 'I' who is under an obligation to give an account of itself and to act in certain ways?Because I find that I cannot give an account of myself without accounting for the social conditions under which I emerge, ethical reflection requires a turn to social theory.In three powerfully crafted and lucidly written chapters, Butler demonstrates how difficult it is to give an account of oneself, and how this lack of self-transparency and narratibility is crucial to an ethical understanding of the human. In brilliant dialogue with Adorno, Levinas, Foucault, and other thinkers, she eloquently argues the limits, possibilities, and dangers of contemporary ethical thought.Butler offers a critique of the moral self, arguing that the transparent, rational, and continuous ethical subject is an impossible construct that seeks to deny the specificity of what it is to be human. We can know ourselves only incompletely, and only in relation to a broader social world that has always preceded us and already shaped us in ways we cannot grasp. If inevitably we are partially opaque to ourselves, how can giving an account of ourselves define the ethical act? And doesn't an ethical system that holds us impossibly accountable for full self-knowledge and self-consistency inflict a kind of psychic violence, leading to a culture of self-beratement and cruelty? How does the turn to social theory offer us a chance to understand the specifically social character of our own unknowingness about ourselves?In this invaluable book, by recasting ethics as a project in which being ethical means becoming critical of norms under which we are asked to act, but which we can never fully choose, Butler illuminates what it means for us as fallible creaturesto create and share an ethics of vulnerability, humility, and ethical responsiveness. Judtith Butler is the Maxine Elliot Professor of Rhetoric and Comparative Literature at the University of California, Berkeley. The most recent of her books are Precarious Life: The Power of Mourning and Violence and Undoing Gender.
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account of oneself action Adorno Adriana Cavarero analyst articulation bad conscience become Bollas Cavarero claim confession consider constitutes context critique death deﬁned deﬁnition Denise Riley desire discourse drives emerges Emmanuel Levinas enigmatic signiﬁers establish ethical ﬁgure ﬁnal ﬁnally ﬁnd ﬁrst formation forms of rationality fully give an account Hegel Hent de Vries history of reason human impingement implies impressionability inaugurated inhuman injury judgment kind language Laplanche’s Levinas limits living means Michel Foucault mode moral narcissism narrate narrative form Nietzsche Nietzschean Odradek offer one’s ontology opacity other’s ourselves passivity paternal law persecution Phenomenology possible precisely preontological primary repression psychoanalysis punishment Qther question recognition reﬂection reﬂexivity regime of truth relation relationality responsibility scene of address seeks sense sexual Simon Critchley social speaking speciﬁc story structure of address subjectivation takes place tell the truth theory Thomas Keenan tion trans unconscious understand University Press violence writes
Page 12 - They felt unable to cope with the simplest undertakings; in this new world they no longer possessed their former guides, their regulating, unconscious and infallible drives: they were reduced to thinking, inferring, reckoning, co-ordinating cause and effect, these unfortunate creatures; they were reduced to their "consciousness," their weakest and most fallible organ!
Page 15 - In this psychical cruelty there resides a madness of the will which is absolutely unexampled: the will of man to find himself guilty and reprehensible to a degree that can never be atoned for; his will to think himself punished without any possibility of the punishment becoming equal to the guilt...
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