The concept of an ordinary ethics – Laruelle

The Univocal Press blog features a translation of an essay by the philosopher François Laruelle entitled ‘The concept of an ordinary ethics or ethics founded in man‘, translated by Taylor Adkins. The essay concerns, following an apparently recurring theme in Laruelle’s work, the critique and countering of the imposition of particular ontological arguments, in the name of ‘philosophy’, with a ‘non-‘ ethics/ philosophy. As Laruelle states in the first paragraph:

“Philosophical ethics has always already decided what an ethics of everyday, common, vulgar or gregarious man would be, i.e. an ethics of mores; the philosophical is the disjunction of the common and the philosophical. The ordinary is something different, another thought which is not directly philosophical but does not deny philosophy: here it designates the point of identity and reality that renders the articulation of the philosophical and the common possible, a de jure identity prior to their disjunction and thus prior to their synthesis and presupposed by both. No reconciliation of the mores of philosophical ethics is attempted here because the latter is always already this reconciliation fulfilled or thought in its de jure possibility. The identity of the ordinary–this must be said of everything that follows–is not philosophically acquired, i.e. by a decision or scission, and it does not found a philosophy, i.e. a becoming and a reconciliation. If the ordinary is not a simple predicate that can be mastered philosophically, then it is an absolute experience of thought which only arises from itself, from its internal, immanent or transcendental nature, and for which an identifiable name is still lacking…”

The ‘ordinary’ here is the form of thought not performed especially but perhaps arising through everyday forms of life, which does not deny or necessarily oppose philosophy, but does not spring from the enactment of a peculiar identity of the ‘philosopher’. Laruelle, in my all-too-brief reading, appears to suggest that philosophical ethics always undermines, if not destroys, any negotiated forms of (ethical) value and/or morality by the insistence of the a priori preliminary recognition of the authority of the ‘philosophical’ position. Ethics is what ‘every philosophy seeks to isolate and describe’, and thus render special in some way, distancing the ethical from the ‘ordinary’ – the manifold possible forms of life that exist before the individuation of this life, now. So, Laruelle poses the question of an ordinary ethics not in terms of a specific authority (a history, a world, a state) in order to question that authority –such an authority is simply taken as a given, but instead suggests that ‘ordinary ethics’ interrogates the pragmatic reality of negotiating an ethics of the present:

“Ordinary ethics does not explain how and why we obey laws or not, an obedience which is an inheritance and an archaism: but that which we should and can make of ethics. The claim to explain the reason behind our obedience only comes from the domain of philosophy. This obedience and its difficulties are for ordinary ethics instead a given–but nothing more–that it needs as simple material. Ordinary ethics does not interrogate its possibility, it interrogates its reality and formulates rules of usage and transformation of this supposed given.”

For Laruelle, then, there is no transcendent authority of philosophy that presupposes and affords a judgement of ethics, in the form of something like a ‘meta-ethics’. Instead, ethics is not founded in ontological distinctions, offered by Jewish or Greek (his examples), or any other, essential laws of Being, but, rather, ‘ordinary’ ethics is emerges from the immanence, the potentiality, of the world realised in our own becoming as humans. Ordinary ethics, therefore, is resolutely human (as opposed to transcendent, divine, or ontological).  This form of ethics does not take its authority from outside, but only from inside our understanding of ourselves – it does not come from ‘Earth’ or ‘Heaven’, in Laruelle’s terms, but from (the) ‘[hu]man’. And not the reasoned, philosophical, human that abstracts itself from the world, but the imbricated messy human bound up in the interstices of becoming:

“Ethics can only become pure if it reduces the form of the Law itself, Reason; but it can only be real, rather than another quasi-religious empiricism of the Other, if it is founded in the essence of man. Not between Heaven and Earth: ordinary ethics is neither of Heaven or Earth, but of man who is not their difference but instead takes his essence from himself. Only the greatest immanence, purely internal immanence with neither transcendence nor internal relation, can found the reality and validity of prescriptions in a non ethical way or outside moral authority.” (Final Para.)

To think about this from the point of view of my own theoretical interests, in Stieglerian terms, I would suggest that such an ethics consists (like the law it con-sists it does not ex-ist), and is composed in processes of transindividuation – rendering ethics metastable without being necessarily permanent.

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One Reply to “The concept of an ordinary ethics – Laruelle”

  1. Thank you for your thoughtful article. I liked the tie in with Stiegler at the end. Also your idea that such an ethics is “composed” in processes of transindividuation opens up a possible link with Latour’s compositionism.

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