On Guilt and Recognition: A Phenomenology of Moral Motivation
The idea of moral action seems to contain a paradox. On the one hand, it seems that in performing such an act one is obligated, bound to the act by something external. On the other hand, it seems that such an act must be freely chosen in the sense that the act must be done for its own sake. The source of the moral act therefore seems to be located both within and without the self. I refer to this as the problem of moral motivation. This dissertation proposes to clarify the nature of moral motivation in the context of a phenomenological investigation of the feeling of guilt, one informed by various thinkers, but particularly by the work of Paul Ricoeur. The rationale behind this proposal can be grasped by observing the confrontation between Immanuel Kant and Friedrich Nietzsche. Kant’s moral philosophy answers the problem of moral motivation by identifying freedom with the determination of the will by the moral law. A crucial aspect of his argument for this identification is his appeal to the experience of respect for the moral law. This feeling, which Kant describes as the incentive of morality, is a feeling of humiliation before reason, but is at the same time the ennobling sense of one’s autonomy. Nietzsche places this liaison between morality and freedom under stern scrutiny, arguing that the two notions are antithetical to one another. In effect, Nietzsche’s attack implies that moral motivation is a chimera. Guilt does not signify the power of the good to motivate one to do right for its own sake. Moral action is better interpreted as the exertion of power: justice is the advantage of the stronger. Provoked by this confrontation, the dissertation argues that the phenomenology of guilt does not permit us to reduce it entirely to internalized aggression and self-deception. Rather, the self-deceptive and manipulative emotional phenomenon that Nietzsche calls bad conscience can be distinguished from guilt per se. The central task of the work is to explicate the distinctive structure of the latter for the sake of two purposes: 1) by distinguishing guilt from bad conscience, to defend the possibility of moral motivation, and 2) to clarify that possibility in terms of its apparently paradoxical relation to the structure of the self.