The Origins of Responsibility
Publication Year: 2010
François Raffoul approaches the concept of responsibility in a manner that is distinct from its traditional interpretation as accountability of the willful subject. Exploring responsibility in the works of Nietzsche, Sartre, Levinas, Heidegger, and Derrida, Raffoul identifies decisive moments in the development of the concept, retrieves its origins, and explores new reflections on it. For Raffoul, responsibility is less about a sovereign subject establishing a sphere of power and control than about exposure to an event that does not come from us and yet calls to us. These original and thoughtful investigations of the post-metaphysical senses of responsibility chart new directions for ethics in the continental tradition.
Published by: Indiana University Press
Series: Studies in Continental Thought
Introduction: The Origins of Responsibility
The ambition of the present work is to reengage the question of responsibility as it is elaborated in post-Nietzschean continental thought, and to explore its post-metaphysical, phenomenological and ontological senses, away from its traditional metaphysical interpretation as the accountability of a free autonomous subject. Returning through a historical genealogy to “the origins of responsibility,” following the “long history of the origins of responsibility” of which Nietzsche...
One. Aristotle: Responsibility as Voluntariness
The prevailing and traditional concept of responsibility designates the capacity of a subject to be the author and the cause of its actions. An action is said to depend on the agent in the position of subjectum, of “subject-cause.” Now the notions of authorship, of agency, indeed of subjectivity, are anything but natural; rather, they are the result of a certain construction (what Nietzsche would call a “fiction” or a “lie”), which can...
Two. Kant: Responsibility as Spontaneity of the Subject
Kant situates responsibility within the sphere of rational agency, within the horizon of subjectivity. A certain conception of freedom (as causa sui, self-determination, and autonomy) makes possible such responsibility, and Kant’s philosophical reflection on responsibility takes place within the horizon of the freedom of the subject, further specifying what Aristotle...
Three. Nietzsche’s Deconstruction of Accountability
One of the most decisive features of Nietzsche’s critique of the Western tradition is his claim that its inherited concepts are essentially constructs (“fictions” or “lies”), as opposed to accurate grasps of an objective essence. There will thus not be a “natural” or “objective” concept of responsibility. We already noted, in particular with respect to Aristotle, the performative...
Four. Sartre: Hyperbolic Responsibility
Sartre’s philosophy of responsibility is marked by a constitutive paradox, as it develops a post-metaphysical sense of responsibility while leading the metaphysical tradition to a paroxysm. Indeed, Sartre’s thought reflects the peculiar merging of a phenomenological and post-theological account of responsibility with the Cartesian paradigm of subjectivity...
Five. Levinas’s Reversal of Responsibility
Levinas’s corpus, comprising one of the greatest ethical thoughts of the twentieth century, presents an extraordinary revolution in the thinking of responsibility—a peculiar “reversal,” to use his term, of the concept of responsibility. One finds in Levinas’s thinking of responsibility a sustained attempt to overcome the very horizon of egology. Indeed, far from assigning responsibility...
Six. Heidegger’s Originary Ethics
That Heidegger’s work entails a major thinking of responsibility is a fact that has perhaps not been sufficiently recognized. This may be due in part to some assumptions regarding his relation to ethics, and a preva lent misunderstanding concerning his deconstruction of that tradition. I will attempt, first, to situate Heidegger’s relation to ethics, and second...
Seven. Heidegger: The Ontological Origins of Responsibility
The first point to be borne in mind in any discussion of Heidegger and responsibility, is that if there is a notion of responsibility in his work it will not and cannot be that of accountability in the classical sense. Nor will it be, as in Levinas, its mere reversal. Rather, Heidegger will situate the question of responsibility outside of a problematic of the ego, outside of egology, and...
Eight. Derrida: The Impossible Origins of Responsibility
What Heidegger’s thinking with respect to responsibility has revealed is that to be responsible signifies the taking-on of an inappropriable: The call of conscience manifests an irreducible being-guilty; being properly one’s own is projecting oneself resolutely toward such being-guilty; the call of Ereignis is from a withdrawal, indicating and...
Conclusion The Future of Responsibility
In order to mark this heteronomy of responsibility, its heterogeneity with respect to the horizon of calculability of the subject, Derrida underlies what he calls the “im-possibility” of responsibility. Here impossible does not mean “that which cannot be,” but rather that which happens outside of the anticipating conditions of possibility of the egological subject...