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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
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SCHOEMAN, Marinus. Morality critique and tragic wisdom in the work of Reiner Schürmann. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2013, vol.53, n.3, pp.305-313. ISSN 2224-7912.

Towards the end of his book Des Hégémonies Brisées which appeared in 1996 (Eng. translation Broken Hegemonies 2003), Reiner Schürmann came to the conclusion that ethics and morals do not belong to (and should be banned from) philosophy. For Schürmann this is because ethics and morals remain naive about the norms they seek to posit. To be exact, they never come to grips with the integrative violence of law, they do not see how law necessarily entails a denial within its very structure. Ethics and morals presuppose, as the conditions of their possibility, that human life is finally normable, that some univocal field of law, in principle, covers and secures human life. But ethics and morals run aground on the tragic double bind. No ethical or moral system can handle an ultimate double bind. Put differently, every ethical system, precisely as an articulation of a normative order, will deny the ultimacy of the tragic double bind by positing some univocal domain of law. Ethics and morals believe the promise of law, its fantasmatic claim to provide human beings with the wherewithal to master the human condition. A leitmotiv in the work of Schürmann, which he explicitly identifies as the guiding ambition of Broken Hegemonies, is to learn to comprehend the conditions of evil. Univocal law, Schürmann argues, is founded in tragic denial. What he then adds is that evil has (at least one of) its conditions in this denial. What Schürmann proposes, then, is something of a paradox from the standpoint of the "natural metaphysician in us", namely that among the conditions of evil, one has to name the act of positing law or moral prescriptions. Laying down law makes life liveable, but it also conditions evil. The conditions of life and the conditions of evil, therefore, must finally be "identical" - that is, inextricably joined - within law. Yet this neither makes evil necessary nor the law evil. Instead, it suggests the essential fallibility of law, that no common domain can really be common, that no community can ever constitute a perfect communion. Schürmann will echo Hannah Arendt's concerns, noting that it is not the absence or loss of values that creates the conditions of evil, as the moralist in every age will simply assume, but precisely the "barrage of values". Values, norms and principles present themselves as the cure for evil, but for Schürmann and Arendt they keep alive the very disease they intend to cure. It is this recognition of the essential fallibility of the law (and its promises of life and security) that Schürmann would like to impress upon us, rather than incantations for norms and values. What is necessary is not ethics and morals, but keeping one's eyes open and recognizing the tragic truth that laws and morals maintain themselves at the cost of obliterating - if necessary, through extreme violence - the counter-law of singularization, mortality, the non-normalizeable.

Keywords : Hannah Arendt; Reiner Schürmann; morality; law; the tragic; tragic wisdom; tranquilitas ordinis; Oedipus; natality; mortality; evil; singularization.

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