Friday, 6 December 2013

The ethical, grace and resurrection

Milbank's own summary of his argument:

1. The ethical "is only genuinely imaginable as a mutual and unending gift-exchange, construed as an absolute surrender to moral luck or absolute faith in the arrival of the divine gift, which is grace."
2. The sustaining of such an exchange "requires a notion of resurrection and faith in the reality of participation in resurrection." (121)

The complex of ideas: the ethical as gift-exchange, feast, marriage, resurrection. The first element, gift-exchange is figured by the feast or by marriage. It is appropriately combined with the second, resurrection, in terms of the heavenly banquet or the eschatological marriage of God and humanity. [And here, all the echoes of John Paul II's Theology of the Body.]

[I suspect that Milbank is doing a phenomenology of the notion of the ethical, and he finds that this notion collapses without 'total exposure' to grace and the notion resurrection and participation in resurrection. If this be true, I would think that morality would still be possible for atheists and in general for people who do not have proper and consistent notions of the ethical and who do not believe in grace and resurrection. Simply because, whatever the explicit pole of the horizon, what matters ultimately is the reality of grace given.]

Milbank is seeking to deliberately oppose 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." [Note the idea of return or response: Benedict XVI surprisingly stressed response as a constitutive element in love, in Deus Caritas Est and then in his Message for Lent 2007, noting that, in the bible, even God ardently desires our response, 'like a bridegroom that of his bride.' Jose' Luis Plascencia had picked up and highlighted this idea in his retreat talks to the 26th General Chapter of the Salesians of Don Bosco in 2008.] [Note also that Milbank does not discount self-sacrifice completely. What he is setting aside is the idea of the ethical as primarily or purely self-sacrifice.]

[The way Milbank is proceeding reminds me of I.M. Crombie's response to Flew, the way he invoked central ideas in Christianity, including resurrection, if I recall right. - The point is that I am trying to sort out the methodological question. Perhaps: what is philosophy and what theology? Milbank is certainly blowing up received ideas of the distinction. In a manner analogous to that of Lonergan? Or radically different?]

This consensus itself involves a complex of ideas:

1. That only an entirely self-sacrificial giving without expectation of a counter-gift distinguishes the gift from a form of self-interested contract. [I.e., gift does not involve response; such a response, or expectation of response, would destroy it as gift and turn it into a contract or exchange.] [Milbank is blowing up the idea of gift as completely disinterested, and, probably, of love and of the ethical as completely disinterested.]

2. That death, "far from being complicit with evil, is the necessary condition for the event of the ethical as such." The reasons for this are two:

2.1 Only our vulnerability, the possibility that we might die, allows us to make an appeal as needy people to our neighbour. Our vulnerability is therefore the condition for the ethical demand.

2.2 Only the capacity of the ethical subject "to respond to the needy person if necessary with his own death, guarantees his deed as truly ethical, as truly disinterested gift." (122)

3. 'God' must be reduced to "a shadowy hypostatized other," because any God who interfered to reward the disinterested giver would be damaging the purity of this disinterest and of the ethical.

4. The true nobility and purity of religious self-sacrifice [and of the ethical] is only realized in a secular realm.

This consensus involves Patocka, Derrida, and probably Levinas. The first point [pure disinterested gift] is espoused by Marion though he does not see that it leads logically to the other three. [Ciglia described Marion yesterday as a Catholic 'a modo suo.']

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