This article interprets Sartre's ethical reflections as leading to a negativistic ethics, that is to say an ethics that denies the possibility of conceiving a positive ideal that has to be attained, and therefore limits itself to the criticising of the negative in the existing world as the only way left for ethics. After a brief introduction into negativism, the article sets out the negativism of Being and Nothingness and the metaethical dilemma that the ontological work poses for a conception of a traditional, positive ethics, which Sartre apparently tried to undertake in his Notebooks for an Ethics. Instead of speaking of a failure of Sartre's attempts to found a traditional ethics, the article shows how already in the Notebooks Sartre is on the way to establishing a conception of an ethics that can be called negativistic, and finally how the late Sartre attains, on the basis of the socio-ontological insights of his Critique of Dialectical Reason, a foundation for a genuinely negativistic ethics which he drafted in his 1964 Rome Lectures.
The two articles that follow are intended as the first in an occasional series that Focaal will feature in forthcoming issues. The objective is to encourage a more rooted consideration of some of the ethical dilemmas and problems that anthropologists face in planning their research, doing their fieldwork, and publishing its results.
Michael W. Doyle
In a widely cited and controversial speech, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan highlighted the moral character of the boundaries of political sovereignty when he questioned whether respecting national sovereignty everywhere and always precluded the international protection of human rights. He argued that it did not and highlighted the importance of multilateral authorization. In this article, I explore the difference that multilateral authority, as opposed to unilateral national decision, should make in justifying armed intervention. Should the more salient role of the United Nations lead us to a more expansive tolerance of international intervention? And, if multilateralism does make a difference—and many think its impartiality is key—are good intentions enough? Had the international community also discovered how to intervene more effectively, with a better prospect of self-sustaining self-determination, at an acceptable humanitarian cost? I will conclude that multilateralism should widen our acceptance of intervention, even though the intentions at play are not reliably superior to unilateral intentions.
Joshua B. Levy
I have always seen making ethical people, or at least making people ethical, as an essential part of the task of Jewish education and synagogue life. I have often quoted Leo Baeck who, when he sought to define the essence of Judaism, wrote about ethics. But it is not quite so simple. Is being a good person enough to make you a good Jew, as this congregant ultimately believed? If so, are our institutions and, indeed, Judaism itself, necessary for this to happen?
Victor Jeleniewski Seidler
On the seventieth anniversary of the destruction of the Vilna ghetto I explore ambivalences in Holocaust memory in the Baltic states and troubling notions of a 'double genocide' while tracing train journeys of death that connected Vienna, Vilna and Tallinn and so western and eastern Europe. Exploring how memories are connected to place and investigating how family legacies of Litvak identity also travel, I show how Musar ethical traditions also journeyed as far as South Africa to influence the ethical politics of the African National Congress. Framing questions about the relationship between ethics and memory across generations I return to the painful warnings in the words of Elchanan Elkes at the destruction of the Kovno ghetto. I trace the possibilities that they help to frame a post-Shoah ethics and a vision of 'the human' that questions the rational self that informed Enlightenment thinking and that proved incapable of resisting the brutalities of Nazism.
For Sartre, shame is not an ethical but an ontological experience. With this in mind, the article examines the philosophical connection between shame and ambiguity through analysis of the experiences of abortion and the Nazi Occupation. The article demonstrates how Beauvoir develops Sartre's ontological notion of shame into an ethical philosophy of ambiguity as a result of wartime experiences. It demonstrates how encounters with shame, abortion, ambiguity and Occupation life in Beauvoir's 1945 novel Le sang des autres elucidate and are developed by Sartre and Beauvoir's philosophies of shame and ambiguity. The paper proposes that Sartre's and Beauvoir's thought was shaped by living through the Nazi Occupation and reveals how the memory of wartime shame is activated in contemporary ethical dilemmas in later literary works of both writers.
Joseph L. Walsh
In discussing Sartre’s contribution to a Marxist ethics of revolution, it is important first to note that it is the ethics of revolution that is under consideration and not the broader question of Marxism and morality. Much has been written in recent years on the question of morality in Marxism, focusing generally on moral theory and justice, for example, Rodney Peffer’s wonderful summation of discussions about Marxism’s moral vision regarding human action and social organization.
Henrietta L. Moore
There has been much discussion in anthropology of the problem of belief and of the difficulties inherent in understanding and interpreting alternative life-worlds. One consequence of anthropological understanding and interpretation being intimately tied to the epistemological and ethical project of contextualization is that other people's knowledge is often rendered as parochial, defined by its local contexts and scope. This article discusses the recent conversion to radical Protestant beliefs in a community in northern Kenya that has resulted in new forms of knowledge and agency. The moral continuities and discontinuities between researcher and researched cannot in this situation be glossed by making the informants rational in context or by asserting the existence of culturally distinct worldviews. The article explores how this sets up a series of epistemological and ethical dilemmas that shape both the research project and the research process.
T. Storm Heter
This article presents a novel defense of Sartrean ethics based on the concept of interpersonal recognition. The immediate post-war texts Anti-Semite and Jew, What is Literature? and Notebooks for an Ethics express Sartre's inchoate yet ultimately defensible view of obligations to others. Such obligations are not best understood as Kantian duties, but rather as Hegelian obligations of mutual recognition. The emerging portrait of Sartrean ethics offers a strong reply to the classical criticism that authenticity would license vicious lifestyles like serial killing. In addition to acting with clarity and responsibility, existentially authentic individuals must respect others.
Michelle R. Darnell
This article stresses the importance of one of Sartre's often overlooked novels, The Age of Reason (1945), and the possibility that it should be considered an early attempt by Sartre to answer the questions he raises at the very end of Being and Nothingness (1943). Considered as a preliminary response to Being and Nothingness, this novel provides an opportunity to explore how ethics might be lived, and draws a clear distinction between a theoretical understanding of being-for-itself and living authentically. As such, it is argued that Sartre's fictional writings, especially The Age of Reason, must be taken seriously in Sartre scholarship.