Monday, 2 December 2013

Being ethical

A byte-sized reflection on Milbank's "The Midwinter Sacrifice": I am recalled to Azzopardi's observation, the only reason for doing good is that it is good to do good; or to reading Sartre somewhere to the effect that the true heroes are the atheists, who do good without hope of any reward. Milbank counters this kind of thinking - or at least certainly Sartre - vigorously. To quote Milbank:
"This complex of ideas, or characterization of the ethical as gift-exchange, feast, marriage, and resurrection, I am seeking to set in deliberate opposition to a recent consensus which would try to understand the ethical as primarily self-sacrifice for the other, without any necessary 'return' issuing from the other back to oneself." (122)
Not even a reflection, really, but merely an observation, that Milbank vigorously contradicts what I have taken so far as - a piece of wisdom. Undigested, fully, certainly. But then - I do recall having found texts in the gospels that echo this piece. Which I do not now recall.

Milbank, in fact, extends the ideas he is opposing to arrive explicitly at the position of Sartre. The consensus (mentioned above), he says, involved a complex of ideas:

  1. The notion that only an entirely sacrificial giving without any expectation of counter-gift distinguishes the gift from a form of self-interested contract.
  2. Death, far from being complicit with evil (as Milbank would understand it to be), is the necessary condition for the event of the ethical as such.
  3. God must be reduced to a shadowy hypostatized other lurking behind the human other, because any God who interfered to 'reward' the disinterested giver would undo the purity of this disinterest and the purity of the ethical realm.
  4. Hence the paradoxical conclusion: the true nobility and purity of religious self-sacrifice is only realized in a secular sphere. 
These positions, observes Milbank, are common to Patocka, Derrida, and probably Levinas, while the first point is espoused by Marion without seeing that they logically lead to the other three. 

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