Jean-Luc Nancy on Responsibility

From the essay “Responding to the World” in A Finite Thinking.

For what are we responsible? For the possible effects of the space probe that passes outside the solar system; for the fragile constitution of Bosnia-Herzegovina; for the juridical problems posed by the Internet; for the transformation of the objects of African rituals into art curios; for the spread of AIDS; for the return of scurvy; for the invention of marine agriculture; for television programs; for public support of poetry; for poetry with or without support; for the memory and the explanation of all geno­cides; for the history of the West, now spread to the entire world, at least in Deleuze’s sense when he says that ‘we are not responsible for the victims but responsible before them.’ Ultimately, we are responsible for every­ thing that could possibly be said to concern action or morals, nature or his­tory; we are responsible—so we tell ourselves, and so, in any case, thinkers and writers tell us—for being, for God, for the law, for death, for birth, for our own existence, for beings as a whole. But which we? We, each one of us, insofar as we know where the individual begins and ends (and it is surely from the standpoint of responsibility that things are least deter­minable); but also we, all of us, insofar as we know what it is to be-together (and here again responsibility makes choice into a problem) . Knowing this, and the problems or aporias that follow from it, is our responsibility. As for knowing or thinking what is meant by a responsibility limited by nothing in space or time, limited neither by imputing subjects nor by fields of application, this is, again and above all, our responsibility, a responsibility, moreover, that faces no one but ourselves. (pg 290)


Philosophical Investigations, §§1-64

The first part of Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations. The book will be covered over six parts.

In a later passage, Wittgenstein demands a task of his readers that I think we can take as an interpretive key to this book: don’t think, but look.  This is an odd demand for a philosopher to make, as we usually expect them to say the opposite.  It is not that he is saying we ought to be more empirical or scientific; rather, he is saying that if we pay close attention to our everyday experiences of language-use, we will discover that many mysteries surrounding language and thought have only arisen because we ignore those everyday experiences.  

The opening salvos of the Philosophical Investigations are dedicated to refuting or complicating a very common-sense (and philosophically entrenched) notion of how language functions, that each particular world is attached to a particular thing via ostensive definition: we learn what a word means by seeing what it points at.  (Wittgenstein’s alternative, to describe language as a network of “language-games,” is not extensively discussed until §65. We must be patient.)

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The Left Alternative, Ch. 7-8

From Roberto Unger’s The Left Alternative.  Chapter 7 is about innovation friendly cooperation, and chapter 8 covers European social democracy.

7. The developing countries: growth with inclusion

We have learned two lessons from the recent history of developing countries.  First, countries grow and have dramatic increases in equality when they open themselves to market forces.  Second, the countries which have grown the most, such as China and India, do not follow the typical formula advocated by governments, financiers, and academics of developed countries.

The most successful developing countries are those which have engaged in the most institutional innovation.  They tend to develop “policy initiatives that broaden the margin of maneuver of national governments” (Unger 2009, 65).  They accept markets and globalization, but only on their own terms.

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The Later Wittgenstein

From Adrian Moore’s The Evolution of Modern Metaphysics.  This is chapter ten.

1. Wittgenstein’s Conception of Philosophy: A Reprise

Sections 89-133 of the Philosophical Investigations give an account of philosophy that sounds a lot like the account given in the Tractatus: it is a therapeutic activity, not a body of doctrine.  

Consider someone saying, “Why can nobody else know with the certainty I do that I have been hurt?”  If we pay close attention to the way sentences like “I have been hurt” are actually used, then the person’s problem looks like they are asking a nonsense question like “Why can nobody else know with the certain I do that ouch!?”

Philosophy can be used to show that there is no real problem, so we do not need to search for an answer.  It is not the point of philosophy to discover facts about reality, but to bring into better focus concepts which can themselves be used to make statements about reality.  

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The Evolution of Modern Metaphysics, Introduction

This is the introduction to Adrian Moore’s The Evolution of Modern Metaphysics: Making Sense of Things.

1-6. The Definition of Metaphysics and Self-Consciousness

Moore’s working definition of metaphysics is “the most general attempt to make sense of things” (Moore 2012, 1).  This is entirely provisional, and he needs to explain why he did not use a different definition like “a general description of the whole universe,” or Wilfred Sellars’ “to understand how things in the broadest possible sense of the term hang together in the broadest possible sense of the term,” or Hegel’s “search for the most plausible theory of the whole universe, as it is considered in the light of total science”.  All three parts of his expression, “most general,” “attempt,” and “make sense of things” do important work for Moore.

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Project Zero

From Paul Mason’s Postcapitalism: A Guide to Our Future.  This is chapter ten, the final chapter.

No one asks what a strategic project to move beyond capitalism would look like, because the Left has been stuck with small-scale thinking for decades.   Mason explains the aim of this chapter: “I call it Project Zero – because its aims are a zero-carbon energy system; the production of machines, products and services with zero marginal costs; and the reduction of necessary labour time as close as possible to zero” (Mason 2015, 266).

The first is to understand the limitations of human willpower in the face of a complex system.  We must test all proposals at a small scale first, and model their large-scale impacts.  

Evgeny Preobrazhensky, the executed Soviet economist, said we needed “foresight and guidance,” not command and control.  He likened society to a nervous system, not a hierarchy.  

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The Will of the People: Notes Towards a Dialectical Voluntarism

Peter Hallward’s 2009 article in Radical Philosophy.

The introduction sketches out Hallward’s terms, such as will of the people and dialectical voluntarism.  The first is a deliberate process of collective self-determination through assembly and organization.  The South African United Democratic Front is an example of such a movement.  Movements based on the will of the people are conditioned by strategic constraints.  As opposed to merely saying “Where there’s a will, there’s a way,” we ought to follow Antonio Machado and say, “there is no way, we make the way by walking it.”

Saying we make the way by walking it is to resist the historical, cultural or socio-economic forces that try to determine our way.  The basis of any emancipatory political sequence is making self-determination “determinant in the first instance.”  The “real movement which abolishes the existing state of things” does not proceed through empty space; as Sartre says, obstacles appear in the very attempt to overcome them.  Or in other words: “It is to conceive of terrain and way through a dialectic which, connecting both objective and subjective forms of determination, is oriented by the primacy of the latter” (Hallward 2009, 17). This relation primacy is the basis of a dialectical voluntarism.  Dialectical voluntarism is the position that collective self-determination is the animating principle of political action.   The “will” and the “people” are thought through each other: will is thought in terms of assembly, deliberation, and determination, while “people” is thought in terms of exercising collective volition.

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