Ethic 188

Ethic 188
The Ethics of Psychoanalysis

Jacques Lacan



Before I take up the question next time, I would like to end today by making
you sense this in connection with a contemporary example, namely, Kant’s,
which I have already devoted some time to – and it’s not for nothing that it
is contemporary with Sade.


In the example in question Kant claims to prove the weight of the Law,
formulated by him as practical reason, as something that imposes itself in
purely reasonable terms, that is to say, divorced from all pathological affect,
as he puts it, which means with no motive that appeals to the subject’s interest.
This is a critical exercise that will bring us back to the very center of the
problem we are addressing today.


Let me remind you that Kant’s example is made up of two little stories.
The first concerns the individual who is placed in the situation of being executed
on his way out, if he wants to spend time with the lady whom he desires
unlawfully – it’s not a waste of time to emphasize this, because even the
apparently simplest details constitute traps. The other case is that of someone
who lives at the court of a despot and who is put in the position of either
bearing false witness against someone who, as a result, will lose his life or of
being put to death himself if he doesn’t do it.


Thereupon, Kant, our dear Kant, tells us in all his innocence, his innocent
subterfuge, that in the first case everyone, every man of good sense, will say
no. For the sake of spending a night with a woman, no one would be mad
enough to accept an outcome that would be fatal to him, since it isn’t a question
of combat but of death by hanging. For Kant, the answer to the question
is not in doubt.


In the other case, whatever the degree of pleasure promised as a result of
bearing false witness or whatever the harshness of the penalty following the
refusal to bear such witness, one can at least assume that the subject stops to
reflect for a moment. One might even conceive that, rather than bear false
witness, the subject will envisage accepting his own death in the name of the
so-called categorical imperative. In effect, if an assault on the goods, the life,
or the honor of someone else were to become a universal rule, that would
throw the whole of man’s universe into a state of disorder and evil.
Can’t we stop here and offer our critique?


The striking significance of the first example resides in the fact that the
night spent with the lady is paradoxically presented to us as a pleasure that
is weighed against a punishment to be undergone; it is an opposition which
homogenizes them. There is in terms of pleasure a plus and a minus. I will
not quote the worst examples – in his Essay on Negative Greatness, Kant
discusses the feelings of the Spartan mother who learns of the death of her
son on the field of honor. And the little mathematical calculation Kant makes
concerning the pleasure the family derives from the glory, from which one
has to deduct the pain felt at the boy’s loss, is quite touching. But it is important
to note that one only has to make a conceptual shift and move the night
spent with the lady from the category of pleasure to that of jouissance, given
that jouissance implies precisely the acceptance of death – and there’s no need
of sublimation – for the example to be ruined.

第一个例子引人注意的重要性,在于这个事实:跟那个女人在一块的夜晚很矛盾地被呈现给予我们,作为一种被衡量的快乐,对比于需要被经历的惩罚。这是一种让它们同等化的对立。用快乐的术语来说,有加法与减法。我将不引述最糟糕的例子。在他的论文「负面的伟大」 康德讨论史巴达人作为母亲的感觉。当她知道她的儿子死于荣誉战场。康德所做到这个小小的数学的计算,关于家庭从这个荣誉获得的快乐。从那里,我们必须推论丧失儿子感觉到的痛苦。这是相当感人的。但是重要的是要注意到,我们只要做一个观念的改变,将跟女人在一块度过一个夜晚,从快乐的范畴移动到欢爽jouissance的范畴,假如考虑到,欢爽确实暗示着接受死亡。那就没有升华的需要,为了让这个例子被毁灭。

In other words, it is enough for jouissance to be a form of evil, for the whole
thing to change its character completely, and for the meaning of the moral
law itself to be completely changed. Anyone can see that if the moral law is,
in effect, capable of playing some role here, it is precisely as a support for the
jouissance involved; it is so that the sin becomes what Saint Paul calls inordinately
sinful. That’s what Kant on this occasion simply ignores.


Then there is the other example, whose little errors of logic should not,
between ourselves, be overlooked. The circumstances involved are somewhat
different. In the first case, pleasure and pain are presented as a single packet
to take or leave, in consideration of which one avoids the risk and gives up
jouissance. In the second case, there is pleasure or pain. It’s not insignificant
that I underline it, for this choice is destined to produce in you a certain
effect of a fortiori, as a result of which you may be deceived about the real
significance of the question.


What’s at issue here? That I attack the rights of another who is my fellow
man in that statement of the universal rule, or is it a question of the false
witness as such?


And what if I changed the example a little? Let’s talk about true witness,
about a case of conscience which is raised if I am summoned to inform on my
neighbor or my brother for activities which are prejudicial to the security of
the state. That question is of a kind that shifts the emphasis placed on the
universal rule.


And I who stand here right now and bear witness to the idea that there is
no law of the good except in evil and through evil, should I bear such witness?


This Law makes my neighbor’s jouissance the point on which, in bearing
witness in this case, the meaning of my duty is balanced. Must I go toward
my duty of truth insofar as it preserves the authentic place of my jouissance,
even if it is empty? Or must I resign myself to this he, which, by making me
substitute forcefully the good for the principle of my jouissance, commands
me to blow alternatively hot and cold? Either I refrain from betraying my
neighbor so as to spare my fellow man or I shelter behind my fellow man so
as to give up my jouissance.
March 20, I960



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