Towards a Girardian Ethics

THE NON-SELF OF GIRARD

Conclusion

Following Buddha’s statements about abstract postulations, I would argue that it is not the extent to which our brain can grasp hypothetical views on fundamental metaphysics, but what this brings to our practical embodied life, which must be placed as the end goal of intellectual initiatives. The question is not whether Girard would agree with a metaphysics without selves — Girard did not invest metaphysical discussions in his work, and as for his personal sentiments, we may probably assume that he follows traditional Christian beliefs about the existence and nature of the soul. What is at stake here is what other researchers can conclude from his reflections. By reading Girard in the direction of the non-self, we open his work, rather factual and non-moralistic in nature, towards its explicit ethical implications. Girard leaves us with the knowledge that all societies are violent, and that our desires – perhaps our strongest energies – are in nature rivalrous. Where can we go from there?

The conceptual strength of Anattā is that it offers us a view of reality as being fundamentally a matter of relation, of permanent and absolute interconnection. This can have tremendous application and implications in the realm of Ethics, where the nature of the relations among humans and between humans and their environment is the focus. This association is also opening even wider doors towards religion – the Latin religio is the obligation, bond: a relation is responsible, and therefore ethical. Reality happens first in the form of relations, positing us as interrelated, and therefore, ethical agents, from the very fact of living. 1

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We build our ethical character first through our relations to others, and only subsequently, with the help of rational principles. In other words, ethical models precede ethical principles.

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If, as Girard tells us, “There is no solution to mimetism aside from a good model”, 2 then the new mimetico-Buddhist account of desire must lead us to realise that mimetic relations are unavoidable, constituting therefore the very setting of our ethical life. It is through one’s mediated relations that one will perform one’s ethical life. We build our ethical character first through our relations to others, and only subsequently, with the help of rational principles. In other words, ethical models precede ethical principles. If human life is fundamentally mimetic, and if mimesis brings the ethical responsibility at the forefront of the human experience, then we must conclude that ethical responsibility is the fundamental modality defining human life. This very fertile set of new considerations calls for a longer study that I will attempt to explore in a later work.

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References

Originally presented at
the COV&R Conference, July 2012, in Tokyo, Japan.

Later published in
Contagion, Journal of Violence, Mimesis, and Culture, Volume 20 (2013). (Download here)

Image courtesy: Wallpapers Craft

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Footnotes

  1. David J. Kalupahana actually argues that Buddhist Philosophy is characterised by a practical concern that posits Ethics as being primal to other Philosophical spheres like Aesthetic, Logic or Metaphysics (The Principles of Buddhist Psychology (New York: SUNY Press, 1987): 147). Parrallels on this very point with the Ethical theory of Emmanuel Levinas should be explored.
  2. René Girard, with Benoît Chantre. Battling to the End, trans. Mary Baker (East Lansing, USA: Michigan State University, 2010), 101.