Ethics 3

Ethics 3
The Ethics of Psychoanalysis
Jacques Lacan
雅克 拉康

Outline of the seminar


A certain philosophy – it immediately preceded the one which is the nearest
relative to the Freuthan enterprise, the one which was transmitted to us
in the nineteenth century – a certain eighteenth-century philosophy assumed
as its task what might be called the naturalist liberation of desire. One might
characterize this thought, this particularly practical thought, as that of the
man of pleasure. Now the naturalist liberation of desire has failed. The more
the theory, the more the work of social criticism, the more the sieve of that
experience, which tended to limit obligation to certain precise functions in
the social order, have raised in us the hope of relativizing the imperative, the
contrary, or, in a word, conflictual character of moral experience, the more
we have, in fact, witnessed a growth in the incidence of genuine pathologies.


The naturalist liberation of desire has failed historically. We do not find ourselves
in the presence of a man less weighed down with laws and duties than
before the great critical experience of so-called libertine thought.


If we find ourselves led to consider even in retrospect the experience of
that man of pleasure – through reflection on what psychoanalysis has contributed
to the knowledge and the circumstances of perverse experience – we
will soon see that in truth everything in this moral theory was to destine it to


In effect, although the experience of the man of pleasure presents itself
with an ideal of naturalist liberation, one has only to read the major authors
-I mean those who in expressing themselves on the subject have adopted the
boldest approaches to libertinage, and even to eroticism itself- to realize that
this experience contains a note of defiance, a kind of trial by ordeal in relation
to that which remains the terminal point of this argument, an undoubtedly
diminished but nevertheless fixed term. And that is nothing less than the
divine term.


As the creator of nature, God is summoned to account for the extreme
anomalies whose existence the Marquis de Sade, Mirabeau, and Diderot,
among others, have drawn our attention to. This challenge, this summoning,
this trial by ordeal ought not to allow any other way out than the one that
was, in effect, realized historically. He who submits himself to the ordeal
finds at the end its premises, namely, the Other to whom this ordeal is
addressed, in the last analysis its Judge. That is precisely what gives its special
tone to this literature, which presents us with the dimension of the erotic
in a way that has never been achieved since, never equaled. In the course of
our investigation, we definitely must submit to our judgment that which in
analysis has retained an affinity with, a relationship to, and a common root
with, such an experience.


Here we are touching on a perspective that has been little explored in analysis.
It seems that from the moment of those first soundings, from the sudden
flash of light that the Freuthan experience cast on the paradoxical origins of
desire, on the polymorphously perverse character of its infantile forms, a
general tendency has led psychoanalysts to reduce the paradoxical origins in
order to show their convergence in a harmonious conclusion. This movement
has on the whole characterized the progress of analytical thought to the point
where it is worth asking if this theoretical progress was not leading in the end
to an even more all-embracing moralism than any that has previously existed.


Psychoanalysis would seem to have as its sole goal the calming of guilt –
although we know well through our practical experience the difficulties and
obstacles, indeed the reactions, that such an approach entails. This approach
involves the taming of perverse jouissance, which is assumed to emerge from
the demonstration of its universality, on the one hand, and its function, on
the other.


No doubt the term “component,” used for designating the perverse drive,
is in this situation given its full weight. Last year we explored the expression
“component drive”; in a whole section of our remarks we were concerned
with the insights that analysis affords concerning the function of desire and
with the deep finality of that really remarkable diversity, which explains the
value of the catalogue of human instincts that analysis has allowed us to draw


Perhaps the question will only be seen in sharp relief, when one compares
the position that our point of view of the term desire has led us to, with that
which is, for example, articulated in the work of Aristotle in connection with
ethics. I will give him an important place in my discussion, including particularly
that work which lays out Aristotelian ethics in its most elaborate form,
the Nicomachean Ethics. There are two points in Aristotle’s work in which he
shows how a whole register of desire is literally situated by him outside of the
field of morality.


Where a certain category of desires is involved, there is, in effect, no ethical
problem for Aristotle. Yet these very desires are nothing less than those
notions that are situated in the forefront of our experience. A whole large
field of what constitutes for us the sphere of sexual desires is simply classed
by Aristotle in the realm of monstrous anomalies – he uses the term “bestiality”
with reference to them. What occurs at this level has nothing to do with
moral evaluation. The ethical questions that Aristotle raises are located altogether
elsewhere – I will give you an idea later of their thrust and essence.
That is a point of special importance.

就欲望的某个范畴而言,实际上,对于亚里斯多德,并没有伦理的难题。可是,这些欲望实实在在就是那些观念,被定位在我们精神分析经验的前景。对于我们,形成性的欲望的范围的整个大领域,被亚里斯多德仅是归类于怪诞的异常行为的领域。他使用这个术语“兽性”,提到它们。发生在这个层次的东西,跟道德的评估没有丝毫的关系。 亚里斯多德提出的伦理学的问题,完全被定位在其他地方。以后,我将让你们明白,它的冲动与本质的观念。那是特别重要的一点。

On the other hand, if one believes that the whole of Aristotle’s morality
has lost none of its relevance for moral theory, then one can measure from
that fact how subversive our experience is, since it serves to render his theory
surprising, primitive, paradoxical and, in truth, incomprehensible.
But all that is just a stop on our journey. What I really want to do this
morning is to give you an outline of this seminar.



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