“Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never merely as a means to an end, but always at the same time as an end.” - "Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals", Immanuel Kant
Ethics is simply said, a philosophical discipline that concerns itself with the concepts of right and wrong. Ever since the earliest human thought - be it folk religions or earliest philosophical systems humans have attempted to answer these questions. From that day, humans have developed multiple and various ethical systems, often disagreeing with each other. The earliest ethical philosophies in the West, but also outside of the West, almost all the way until the early postmodern ideas, were universalist in their worldview. Whether it is a theological system of ethics in which the cosmic laws about good and bad come from gods or whether it is a Kantian system that brings the autonomy of the pure mind into picture - it was an universal system that was believed to transcend culture, nation and everything else that divides humans. The good and bad were universal to every human being. Early liberal thinkers were either of Kantian lineage or the lineage of John Stuart Mill and his utilitarianism. Both were universalist in their approach. With the development of postmodern philosophies, the idea of an ethical system that could be universal to all human beings came to be criticised. The typical postmodern elements of culture, language and social constructivism were brought into picture and we have entered the age of the postmodern pluralism and moral and ethical relativism. One of the criticisms that the postmodern, feminist and other ethical philosophies give to universalist ethical systems is that they are all overly rational, detached and "Logos" based, and in that context reflect the masculine approach to ethics. Many postmodernists, such as Richard Rorty believe that sentimentalism, art, closeness rather than laws are source of ethics and human rights. One could say that this is an entirely new dualism but perhaps it has been present in one form or another throughout human existence. Today we shall explore them and try to find the role of each.
The Ethics of the Logos
“Freedom is obedience to self-formulated rules.” - "The Nicomachean Ethics", Aristotle When we think of ethics as a law, as a system that abstractly rules above the individuals, that is concerned with doing things "the right way" we can say we speak of the ethical system centered around Logos, which itself we can understand as a Divine masculine or masculine manifestations of God. These ethical systems, often in our legal systems, in regulations and protocols, exist outside of individuals - they are impersonal and not concerned with emotional wellbeing of every specific individual but rather maintaining a certain structure or system within which humans can peacefully exist. In her book, "The Tao of Islam", professor Sachiko Murata explores the similarities between Taoist and Muslim ideas on the masculine and feminine. Among the many things she addresses, she addresses what superficially appears to be a dualism between the exoteric and esoteric traditions within Islam - the exoteric realm appearing strict and rigid, while the esoteric realm or the Sufis indulge in a sentimental devotion, seek closeness and destruction of all boundaries between them and God. She says: "On the social level, Islam affirms the primacy of God as King, Majestic, Lord, Ruler. It establishes a theological patriarchy even if Muslim theologians refuse to apply the word father (or mother) to God. God is yang, while the world, human beings, and society are yin. Thereby order is established and maintained. Awe and distance are the ruling qualities. On the spiritual level, the picture is different. In this domain many Muslim authorities affirm the primacy of God as Merciful, Beautiful, Gentle, Loving. Here they establish a spiritual matriarchy, though again such terms are not employed. God is yin and human beings are yang. Human spiritual aspiration is accepted and welcomed by God. Intimacy and nearness are the ruling qualities. This helps explain why one can easily find positive evaluations of women and the feminine dimension of things in Sufism." Recently, with the increase of more pluralistic philosophies - a concept of a universal, strict, restrictive social and legal system may appear tyrannical to humans who chant mantras of "free self-expression" and who revel in the constant provocations they give to the "social values". We enjoy seeing standards being "challenged" and destructed. The role of this legalistic father who seeks obedience to rules as Aristotle calls it, is not to simply oppress but to provide structure for everything else to happen and be found.
The Ethics of Eros
“To approach the Other in conversation is to welcome his expression, in which at each instant he overflows the idea a thought would carry away from it. It is therefore to receive from the Other beyond the capacity of the I, which means exactly: to have the idea of infinity. But this also means: to be taught. The relation with the Other, or Conversation, is a non-allergic relation, an ethical relation; but inasmuch as it is welcomed this conversation is a teaching. Teaching is not reducible to maieutics; it comes from the exterior and brings me more than I contain. In its non-violent transitivity the very epiphany of the face is produced.” - "Totaliy and Infinity: An Essay on Exteriority", Emmanuel Levinas When Lavinas develops his ethical system in which one is to approach the other not through the set of laws or principles, but with pure openness in which the other appears to us without our mental objectification, he reminds greatly of one of his influences, Martin Buber and his concept of "I-and-Thou". Both of these thinkers were coming from theological (Jewish) background, so the transcendental or metaphysical reality becomes important in their systems. Eros represents dissolution of the boundaries that Levinas speaks of - in Eros there are no you and me, there is barely even us - there is just a pool of non-differentiation and complete oneness. It is the state of the primordial darkness. The ethics of Eros is then, not the ethics of law or principle but the ethics of closeness and connection. One could reduce it to the ethics of care, but I would argue that the ethics of Eros are wider. Eros seeks to connect and from this connection that is formed, to create a Utopian society of almost primordial innocence in which nobody desires to do harm to anybody. This dream in our age manifests with the ideas that we may, by education or any other means, have criminality disappear from our societies - while possible to reduce through many sociological incentives, to have it disappear is a dream we may probably never see come true. However, the value of the ethics of Eros is that it allows one to see human beings where legislator would simply see subjects. Eros brings, at least, for a moment, freedom from our mental concepts and allows us to experience the pure joy of being and of transcending our "I" and getting lost in the Other.
"In the Islamic perspective, the revealed law prevents society from degenerating into chaos. One gains liberty not by overthrowing hierarchy and constraints, but by finding liberty in its true abode, the spiritual realm. Freedom, lack of limitation and constraint, bold expansivenessis achieved only by moving toward God, not by rebelling against Him and moving away. Attar (d. 618/1221) makes the same point more explicitly in an anecdote he tells about the great Sufi shaykh, Abu'l- Hasan Kharraqani (d. 425/1033): It is related that one night the Shaykh was busy with prayer. He heard a voice saying, "Beware, Abu'l-Hasan! Do you want me to tell people what I know about you so that they will stone you to death?" The Shaykh replied, "O God the Creator! Do You want me to tell the people what I know about Your mercy and what I see of Your generosity? Then no one will prostrate himself to You." A voice came, "You keep quiet, and so will I." Sufism is concerned with "maintaining the secret" (hifz al-sirr) for more reasons than one. The secret of God's mercy threatens the plain fact of His wrath. If "She" came out of the closet, "He" would be overthrown. But then She could not be found, for it is He who shows the way to Her door." - "The Tao of Islam", Sachiko Murata Are then the ethical world of the primordial Father and the primordial Mother at war with each other? Hardly so - they are at war only in the human minds that usually tend to see the reality through polarities and dualisms that often oppose each other while on a cosmological and metaphysical plane they create everything that is. The age that we live in finds it easier to accept the ethics of Eros as good - the "She overthrowing He", that Murata speaks of. For the embrace of the mother is sweet and loving and she has enough care and compassion for everyone equally. How is then one to see any value in the stern and strict Logos when all the sweetness and comfort of the other is right before him? What summons the Logos back is anarchic situation that happens when Eros rules for too long and when the compassion is limited to the prayers for the criminals while simultaneously keeping them away from society. When society descends into anarchic chaos, even Eros is no longer visible - Eros becomes the "She that cannot be found" that is referenced earlier. The Logos provides security and the safety in which the Eros can be seen. In bridging the difference between the two - we should not run away from respecting laws, from establishing principles and virtues that we ought to be devoted to, and we should also not run away from seeking connection, to be so involved in our mental concepts as not to see anything but them, leaving us isolated, Logos was not supposed to cast shadow over Eros but to allow the full expression of it.
Links "Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals", Immanuel Kant "The Nicomachean Ethics", Aristotle "The Tao of Islam", Sachiko Murata "Totality and Infinity: An Essay on Exteriority", Emmanuel Levinas Support Orphic Inscendence Become a Patron