Ethic 77

Ethic 77

The Ethics of Psychoanalysis

Jacques Lacan






Let us be clear about this: when we reflect on the maxim that guides our
action, Kant is inviting us to consider it for an instant as the law of a nature
in which we are called upon to live.


That is where one finds the apparatus
that would have us reject in horror some maxim or other that our instincts
would gladly lead us to. In this connection he gives us examples that are
worth taking note of in a concrete sense, for however obvious they may seem,
they perhaps suggest, at least to the analyst, a line of reflection.


But note that
he affirms the laws of nature, not of society. It is only too clear that not only
do societies live very well by reference to laws that are far from promoting
their universal application, but even more remarkably, as I suggested last
time, these societies prosper as a result of the transgression of these maxims.


It is a matter then of a mental reference to a nature that is organized according
to the laws of an object constructed at the moment when we raise the question
of our rule of conduct.


So as to produce the kind of shock or eye-opening effect that seems to me
necessary if we are to make progress, I simply want to draw your attention
to this: if The Critique of Practical Reason appeared in 1788, seven years after
the first edition of The Critique of Pure Reason, there is another work which
came out six years after The Critique of Practical Reason, a little after Thermidor
in 1795, and which is called Philosophy in the Boudoir.


As, I suppose, you all know, Philosophy in the Boudoir is the work of a
certain Marquis de Sade, who is famous for more than one reason. His notoriety
was accompanied from the beginning by great misfortunes, and one
might add by the abuse of power concerning him – he did after all remain a
prisoner for twenty-five years, which is a long time for someone who, my
goodness, as far as we know, never committed a serious crime, and who in
certain of our modern ideologies has been promoted to a point where one can
also say that there is at the very least some confusion, if not excess.


Although in the eyes of some the work of the Marquis de Sade seems to
promise a variety of entertainments, it is not strictly speaking much fun.
Moreover, the pans that seem to give the most pleasure can also be regarded
as the most boring. But one cannot claim that his work lacks coherence. And,
in a word, it is precisely the Kantian criteria he advances to justify his positions
that constitute what can be called a kind of anti-morality.


The paradox of this is argued with the greatest coherence in the work that
is entitled Philosophy in the Boudoir. A short passage is included in it that,
given the number of attentive ears here, is the only one that I expressly recommend
you read – “Frenchmen, one more effort to become republicans.”


As a result of this appeal, which supposedly came from a number of cells
that were active at that time in revolutionary Paris, the Marquis de Sade
proposes that, given the ruin of those authorities on which (according to the
work’s premises) the creation of a true republic depends, we should adopt
the opposite of what was considered up to that point as the essential minimum
of a viable and coherent morality.


And, in truth, he does quite a good job in defending that proposal. It is no
accident if we first find in Philosophy in the Boudoir the praise of calumny.
Calumny, he writes, can in no sense be injurious; if it imputes to our neighbor
worse things than one can justifiably impute to him, it nevertheless has
the merit that it puts us on guard against his activities. And the author proceeds
in like manner to justify point by point the reversal of the fundamental
imperatives of the moral law, extolling incest, adultery, theft, and everything
else you can think of. If you adopt the opposite of all the laws of the Decalogue,
you will end up with the coherent exposition of something which in
the last instance may be articulated as follows: “Let us take as the universal
maxim of our conduct the right to enjoy any other person whatsoever as the
instrument of our pleasure.”

事实上,他尽心尽力地辨护那个建议。这个并非是偶然,假如我们首先在“博德尔顿哲学”里发现到,对于诬告的赞赏。他书写到,诬告根本就无伤大雅。假如诬告跟我们的邻居灌输更加糟糕的东西,我们能够振振有理地灌输给他。诬告仍然具有这个优点, 它让我们警觉防卫他的行动。作者继续以同样的方式逐项地自圆其说,对于道德法则的基本命令倒转。他称赞乱伦,通奸,偷窃,以及每样你想得到的东西。假如你们採用所有的法则的相反,十日谈的所有的法则。你们结束会有事情的一贯陈述。以最后的一个例子,它可以被表达如下:「让我们接受这个权利,享受另外一个人的权利,作为是我们的行为的普世的公理,作为我们快乐的工具。」

Sade demonstrates with great consistency that, once universalized, this law,
although it gives libertines complete power over all women indifferently,
whether they like it or not, conversely also liberates those same women from
all the dudes that civilized society imposes on them in their conjugal, matrimonial
and other relations. This conception opens wide the flood gates that
in imagination he proposes as the horizon of our desire; everyone is invited
to pursue to the limit the demands of his lust, and to realize them.


If the same opening is given to all, one will be able to see what a natural
society is like. Our repugnance may be legitimately related to that which
Kant himself claims to eliminate from the criteria of the moral law, namely,
to the realm of sentiment.


If one eliminates from morality every element of sentiment, if one removes
or invalidates all guidance to be found in sentiments, then in the final analysis
the Sadian world is conceivable – even if it is its inversion, its caricature – as
one of the possible forms of the world governed by a radical ethics, by the
Kantian ethics as elaborated in 1788.


Believe me, there is no lack of Kantian echoes in the attempts to articulate
moral systems that one finds in a vast literature that might be called libertine,
the literature of the man of pleasure, which is an equally caricatural form of
the problem that for a long time preoccupied the αnciéη regime, and from
Fenelon on, the education of girls. You can see that pushed to its comically
paradoxical limit in The Raised Curtain by Mirabeau.

请你们相信我。并不欠缺对于康德的迴响。由于企图要表达道德的系统,我们在各种各样所谓“风流文学”发现的道德系统,那些寻欢作乐的人们的文学。那是那个难题的同样具有嘲讽的形式,长久以来,这个难题专注于αnciéη regime,(古代政权),从风尼龙开始,就从事对女孩的教育。你们能够看见那个教育被推到它猾就的悖论的极限,在米拉保的“窗帘拉起”一书里。

Well now, we are coming to that on account of which, in its search for
justification, for a base and support, in the sense of reference to the reality
principle, ethics encounters its own stumbling block, its failure – I mean
there where an aporia opens up in that mental articulation we call ethics. In
the same way that Kantian ethics has no other consequence than that gymnastic
exercise whose formative function for anyone who thinks I have called
to your attention, so Sadian ethics has had no social consequences at all.


Understand that I don’t know if the French have really tried to become
republicans, but it is certain that just like all the other nations of the world,
including those who had their revolutions after them – bolder, more ambitious,
and more radical revolutions, too – they have left what I will call the
religious bases of the ten commandments completely intact, even pushing
them to a point where their puritan character is increasingly marked. We’ve
reached a situation where the leader of a great socialist state on a visit to other
contemporary cultures is scandalized to see dancers on the Pacific coast of
the noble country of America raising their legs a little too high.


We are thus faced here with a question, that is to say, the question of the
relationship to das Ding.


This relationship seems to me to be sufficiently emphasized in the third
chapter of The Critique of Practical Reason concerning the motives of practical
pure reason. In effect, Kant acknowledges after all the existence of one sentient
correlative of the moral law in its purity, and strangely enough, I ask
you to note, it is nothing other than pain itself. I will read you the passage
concerned, the second paragraph of the third part: “Consequently, we can
see a priori that the moral law as the determining principle of will, by reason
of the fact that it sets itself against our inclinations, must produce a feeling
that one could call pain. And this is the first and perhaps only case, where
we are allowed to determine, by means of a priori concepts, the relationship
between a knowledge, which comes from practical pure reason, and a feeling
of pleasure or pain.”


In brief, Kant is of the same opinion as Sade. For in order to reach das
Ding absolutely, to open the flood gates of desire, what does Sade show us on
the horizon? In essence, pain. The other’s pain as well as the pain of the
subject himself, for on occasions they are simply one and the same thing. To
the degree that it involves forcing an access to the Thing, the outer extremity
of pleasure is unbearable to us. It is this that explains the absurd or, to use a
popular expression, maniacal side of Sade that strikes us in his fictional constructions.
We are aware at every moment of the discomfort in living constructions,
the kind of discomfort that makes it so difficult for our neurotic
patients to confess certain of their fantasms.


In fact, to a certain degree, at a certain level, fantasms cannot bear the
revelation of speech.



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