Ethic 218

The Ethics of Psychoanalysis
Jacques Lacan

XVII 第17章

The function of the good






We have reached the barrier of desire then, and, as I indicated last time, I
will speak about the good. The good has always had to situate itself on that
barrier. I shall be concerned today with the way in which psychoanalysis
enables one to articulate that situation.


I will speak then about the good, and perhaps what I have to say will be
bad in the sense that I don’t have all the goodness required to speak well of
it. I won’t perhaps speak too well of it because I am myself not quite well
enough to speak at that high level the subject requires. But the idea of nature
that I have told you about means that I will not be stopped by such an accidental
contingency. I simply ask you to excuse the presentation if at the end
you are not completely satisfied.


The question of the good is as close as possible to our sphere of action. All
exchanges between men and especially interventions of the type we engage
in are usually placed under the tutelage and authority of the good – the perspective
is a sublime one, indeed a sublimated one. Now sublimation could
be defined from a certain point of view as an opinion in the Platonic sense of
the term, an opinion arranged in such a way as to reach something that might
be the object of science, but that science doesn’t manage to reach where it is
to be found. A sublimation of any kind, even including that universal, the
good itself, may be momentarily in this brief parenthesis considered to be a
phony science.


Everything in your analytical experience suggests that the notion and finality
of the good are problematic for you. Which good are you pursuing precisely
as far as your passion is concerned? That question concerning our
behavior is always on the agenda. At every moment we need to know what
our effective relationship is to the desire to do good, to the desire to cure.


We have to deal with that as if it were something that is likely to lead us
astray, and in many cases to do so instantly. I will even add that one might
be paradoxical or trenchant and designate our desire as a non-desire to cure.
Such a phrase is meaningful only insofar as it constitutes a warning against
the common approaches to the good that offer themselves with a seeming
naturalness, against the benevolent fraud of wanting-to-do-one’s-best-for-the subject.


But in that case what do you want to cure the subject of? There is no doubt
that this is central to our experience, to our approach, to our inspiration –
wanting to cure him from the illusions that keep him on the path of his
desire. But how far can we go in this direction? Moreover, even if these
illusions are not respectable in themselves, the subject still has to want to
give them up. Is the limit of resistance here simply individual?


Here the question of different goods’ is raised in their relation to desire.
All kinds of tempting goods offer themselves to the subject; and you know
how imprudent it would be for us to put ourselves in a position of promising
the subject access to them all, to follow “the American way.” It is nevertheless
the possibility of having access to the goods of this world that determines
a certain way of approaching psychoanalysis – what I have called “the American
way.” It also determines a certain way of arriving at the psychoanalyst’s
and making one’s demand.


Before entering into the problem of different goods, I would like to sketch
out the illusions on the path of desire. Breaking these illusions is a question
of specialized knowledge – knowledge of good and evil indeed – that is located
in this central field whose irreducible, ineradicable character in our experience
I have attempted to show you. It is bound up with that prohibition, that
reservation, that we explored specifically last year when I spoke to you about
desire and its interpretation. I pointed to its essential character in the notion
of “he didn’t know,” which is in the imperfect tense in French and which
remains centrally within the field of enunciation, or in other words within
the deepest relationship of the subject to signifying practice. That is to say,
the subject is not the agent but the support, given that he couldn’t even
calculate the consequences. It is through his relationship to signifying practice
that, as a consequence, he emerges as subject.


Moreover, to refer to that fantasmic experience that I chose to produce
before you so as to exemplify the central field involved in desire, don’t forget
the moments of fantasmic creation in Sade, moments in which one finds
expressed directly – in diabolically jubilatory terms that make it intolerable
to read – the idea that the greatest cruelty is that the subject’s fate is displayed
before his eyes with his full awareness of it. The plot against the victim is openly hatched in front of him.


The value of this fantasm is that it confronts the subject with the most radical kind of interrogation, with a final “he didn’t know,” insofar as expressed thus in the imperfect tense, the question asked is too much for him. I just ask you to recall the ambiguity revealed by linguistic experience in connection with the French imperfect. When one
says “a moment later and the bomb exploded (iclatait),” that may mean two
contradictory things in French, namely, either the bomb did, in fact, explode
or something happened which caused it not to explode.


We have now reached the subject of the good. The subject is in no sense
new, and one has to admit that thinkers from earlier periods, whose concerns
may for one reason or another seem dated to us, nonetheless sometimes formulate
the issues in interesting ways. I have nothing against bringing them
to your attention, however strange they may seem when presented here out
of context in an apparently abstract form that doesn’t seem designed to arouse
our interest. Thus, when Saint Augustine writes the following in Book VII,
Chapter XII, of his Confessions, I think it deserves far more than an indulgent


That everything that is, is good, because it is the work of God.


I understood that all corruptible things are good, and that they wouldn’t be corruptible if they were sovereignly good; no corruption would occur if they were not good. For if they were of sovereign good, they would be incorruptible, and if they had no good in them, there would be nothing in them capable of being corrupted, since corruption injures that which it corrupts, and it can only injure it if diminishes good.


And now we come to the core of the argument in the French version of the
Garnier edition.


Thus either corruption causes no damage, which cannot be upheld, or all things
that are corrupted lose some good, which is undeniable. That if they had lost everything that was good, they would no longer exist at all. Or in other words, if they continued to live without being susceptible to corruption any longer, they would be in a more perfect state than they were before having lost all that was good about them, since they would remain forever in an incorruptible state.


I assume that you grasp the core and indeed the irony of this argument, and moreover that it is precisely the question that interests us. If it is unbearable to realize that everything that is good is extracted from the heart of all things, what can we say of that which remains, which is, after all, something, something different? The question goes echoing down through the centuries and down through human experience. We find it again in The Story of Juliette, with the difference that it is attached, as it should be, to the question of the Law, and in a no less odd way. I would like to draw your attention to this oddness because it is the oddness of a structure that is at issue. Sade writes as follows:


Tyrants are never born out of anarchy. One only ever sees them rise up in the
shadow of laws; they derive their authority from laws. The reign of law is, therefore, evil; it is inferior to anarchy. The greatest proof of this position is the obligation of any government to plunge back into anarchy whenever it wants to remake its constitution. In order to abrogate its ancient laws, it is obliged to establish a revolutionary regime in which there are no laws. Under this regime new laws are eventually born, but the second is less pure than the first since it derives from it, since the first good, anarchy, had to occur, if one wanted to achieve the second good, the State’s constitution.


I give you this as a fundamental example. The same kind of argument,
formulated by minds that were certainly very remote from one another in
their concerns, clearly shows that some form of necessity must exist there
that gives rise to this sort of logical stumbling along a certain path.


As far as we are concerned, the question of the good is articulated first of
all in its relationship to the Law. On the other hand, nothing is more tempting
than to evade the question of the good behind the implication of some
natural law, of some harmony to be found on the way to the elucidation of
desire. Yet our daily experience proves to us that beneath what we call the
subject’s defenses, the paths leading to the pursuit of the good only reveal
themselves to us constantly, and I would add, in their original form, in the
guise of some alibi on the part of the subject. The whole analytical experience
is no more than an invitation to the revelation of his desire; and it changes
the primitiveness of the relationship of the subject to the good compared to
everything which up to that point had been articulated by the philosophers.
One has undoubtedly to look closely, for it seems at first that nothing is
changed, and that with Freud the compass still points toward the register of


I have emphasized this since the beginning of the year: from the origin of
moral philosophy, from the moment when the term ethics acquired the meaning
of man’s reflection on his condition and calculation of the proper paths to
follow, all meditation on man’s good has taken place as a function of the
index of pleasure. And I mean all, since Plato, certainly since Aristotle, and
down through the Stoics, the Epicureans, and even through Christian thought
itself in Saint Thomas Aquinas.


As far as the determination of different goods
is concerned, things have clearly developed along the paths of an essentially
hedonist problematic. It is only too evident that all that has involved the
greatest of difficulties, and that these difficulties are those of experience. And
in order to resolve them, all the philosophers have been led to discern not
true pleasures from false, for such a distinction is impossible to make, but
the true and false goods that pleasure points to.


Doesn’t Freud’s articulation of the pleasure principle give us an advantage,
a reward in terms of knowledge and clarity?


Isn’t it in a definitive way profoundly different from the meaning previously
given to pleasure by anyone else?



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