Badiou's Ethics: A Return to Ideal Theory
Badiou Studies, Vol. 3, Issue 1, pp. 271-321
51 Pages Posted: 27 Mar 2014
Date Written: 2014
In the Ethics, Badiou writes against ideal, abstract and rule-based conceptions of ethics. As in some pragmatic ethics, it implies denying the received moral vocabulary and focusing instead on agency. This explains why Badiou's Ethics is often read as a radical statement in today's normative landscape. This paper evaluates such a claim.
In particular, it questions the extent to which an ethical approach that idealizes the situation through the notion of “fidelity to the event” can truly be non-ideal and radical. Three points are problematic. First, one has to discover actual “events” that demand ethical action; but who can tell us what an event is? Second, one has to be “faithful” to those events; but it is unclear whether Badiou allows for “evil” events and why fidelity to the event is better than its denial or occultation. Three, how can a non-ideal and radical ethical approach be premised on the idea of truth, and which consequences follow for its capacity to provide normative guidance?
Put simply, this paper argues that while Badiou seems to perform a radical shift in contemporary moral reasoning, his contribution is more ambiguous. He seems to (i) reinstate an ethics based on naturalistic conceptions of good and evil; and, (ii) replace the role of reason in devising moral rules for the role of the philosopher that defines what counts as an event. Finally, while the results are modest, Badiou's ethics forces us to adopt a vocabulary that impoverishes the description of moral life, and fails to build an ethics that is sensitive to concrete situations.
Keywords: ethics, Badiou, ideal theory, event
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