Prolegomena to an Ethics
This dissertation investigates the possibility of a renewed phenomenological ethics that would ground ethics in the structure of lived experience, so that daily existence is ethically informative and the good is located in the concrete, heartfelt affairs of dwelling in the world with others. Thus far, phenomenological ethics has been deeply influenced by the two schools of Max Scheler’s value ethics and Emmanuel Levinas’ alterity ethics, both of which I argue share a fundamental point of contact in what I am calling Deep Kantianism. That is, phenomenological ethics has been haunted by Immanuel Kant’s non-phenomenological divide between nature and freedom, being and goodness, ontology and ethics. In response, I will suggest a new point of departure for phenomenological ethics beginning with the originary unity of being and goodness as revealed by the love that moves the self beyond herself toward her ground in the other person. Chapter One seeks to establish and identify the problem of Deep Kantianism, or explain what exactly Deep Kantianism is according to its origins. Kant begins his ethics with Hume’s assumption that being and goodness, is and ought, are separate. The implications of this divide threaten to reduce being to bare being without ethical import and to convert the good into an abstract shadow that is irrelevant to the situations of daily life. Chapter Two examines how Scheler in his value ethics shows against Kant that the ethical is only experienced by a being with a heart. The source of normativity is revealed and known through affectivity. However, this insight is troubled by Scheler’s distinction between values and bearers of value that repeats the Kantian distinction between nature and freedom, respectively. Chapter Three focuses on Scheler’s prioritization of love as the fundamental affect of the heart and person in its moving the person outside of herself, a movement that constitutes the person as such. However, this love turns out to not be for the sake of the person but for the value-essence that she bears, again placing the ethical with Kant outside of the realm of Being. Chapter Four begins with Levinas’ discovery that ethics is constituted by the relation to the Other, an ethical relation that is the first relation before any ontological relation, indicating that the self is responsible for the Other. Yet Levinas here is haunted by Deep Kantianism in his denigration of affectivity, which for him is an egoist return to the self that excludes the Other. Chapter Five argues that Levinas’ ethics is permeated by an abyssal nothingness that is exhibited in the destitution of the Other in Totality and Infinity and the passivity of the self in Otherwise than Being. The nothingness that permeates the ethical relation hints at the necessity of a return to the ontological, suggesting that ontology is not, as Levinas maintains following Kant, devoid of ethical implications. Chapter Six turns to Martin Heidegger in his retrieval of a pre-Kantian pathos through his readings of Augustine and Aristotle. This pathos suggests that affectivity is always already oriented toward the things and persons of the world in a way that reveals what is conducive and detrimental to one’s Being, implying a notion of what is good and bad for one’s Being, which Heidegger leaves undeveloped. Chapter Seven conducts a phenomenology of the ground of ethics that is informed by the discoveries made by Scheler, Levinas, and Heidegger. The self begins as constituted by a nothing, demanding that it move outside of itself in the exteriorization of love. This exteriorization directs the self to the concrete other person, the thou, who is revealed to be both the Good and Being as the proper end of love, indicating that the self is constituted by Being-for-the-Other.