Bridges to Co-Responsibility



When I presented some of these reflections at a COV&R conference in 2012, I felt a certain movement of excitement and interest, from a community of scholars very familiar with Girard’s thought. It is central, today, to address the question of Girard and ethics, and, while it has been done in other realms (political philosophy, theology), it is also necessary to try to translate the ethical stance stemming from mimetic theory into the language of philosophy, and in particular, within the traditions of ethics.

Doing so also permits to offer more direct bridges between Girard’s mimetic theory and the works of other contemporary writers, with apparently similar ethical concerns but not always common questions through the rest of their respective works. It is perhaps a historical coincidence that this long generation of thinkers also seems to share with Buddhism a serious concern for, and belief in, the idea of interrelatedness. Girard’s only neologism, interdividuality, coined with Oughourlian and Lefort, seems very close, if not similar to the idea of Inter-Being by Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh 1 or to the question of inter-subjectivity addressed at length by Emmanuel Levinas. Girard has several times recognised his affinity with Levinas’ core concerns, 2 and a few ‘Girardian’ scholars have followed up on this avowal to actually explore the deeper connections between the two thinkers. 3 Jean-Pierre Dupuy has also highlighted possible agreements with other recent ethical theories connected to (a revised understanding of) the self, such as Francisco Varela’s selfless self and Daniel Denett’s non-selfy self. 4 I hope that the present study may find a place within these insightful ethical discussions.

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Many of our issues would find harmonious resolutions, if the core-concept of our worldviews emphasised on interdependence, that is, on the relations or contacts, rather than on the ontology of the individuals involved.

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If one word, one idea would have to be kept from Buddhism, regarding ethics, it is the word of interdependence. This is based on the fundamental metaphysical view of Anattā, selflessness. Indeed, if at the heart of reality there are no unchanging cores or entities, then it is flux, contact, connectedness that constitutes life. As we just saw, numbers of modern western intellectual voices do share such a sensibility, but western society as a whole betrays its deepened belief in autonomy and full independence. The difficulty to perceive the effect of humans on environment, 5 the disaggregation of the family structure, based on the allegedly autonomous decisions of its members, or the irresponsible behaviours of trade marketers, are as many examples of this lack in popular representations and values. Many such issues would find harmonious resolutions, if the core-concept of our worldviews emphasised on interdependence, that is, on the relations or contacts, rather than on the ontology of the individuals involved. It would offer new holistic perspectives where one can see her co-responsibility in all phenomena of the world, a responsibility never exclusive, but never absent either. Co-responsibility is the ethical outcome of interdependence, found in Buddhism, and, I argue, also at the core of Girard’s Ethics.


Image courtesy: Chasing the Perfect Moment



  1. Lefebure, “Mimesis, Violence and Socially Engaged Buddhism” 127 and “Buddhism and Mimetic Theory” 179, with particular reference to Thich Nhat Hanh, Interbeing: Commentaries on the Tiep Hien Precepts, Ed. Fred Eppsteiner (Berkeley: Parallax Press, 1987).
  2. Girard, Things Hidden, 444; but also Juliette Cerf, “Entretien avec René Girard,” in Philosophie Magazine: Hors Série (November 2011), 9.
  3. See for instance the works of Sandor Goodhart, but also Joachim Duyndam, “Girard and Levinas, Cain and Abel, Mimesis and the Face,” Contagion 15/16 (2008-2009): 237-248 and Benoît Chantre, “D’un « désir métaphysique » à l’autre,” 216-222.
  4. Dupuy, “Naturalizing Mimetic Theory”, 201.
  5. The destruction of the environment is explicitly presented by Girard as one of the most important concerns of modernity (Scott R. Garrels, “Mimesis and Science: An Interview with René Girard,” in Mimesis and Science, ed. Garrels (East Lansing, USA: Michigan State University, 2011), 250).