The function of self-criticism in Ethics

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Now that I am actually writing my essay on logic, I have stumbled upon an idea that I intend to develop further in another piece of work. It concerns the ego and the function of self-criticism in the appraisal of the case. If in the context of relativism the self is not the ultimate benchmark and if the self is defined against its own, then what function may self-criticism perform? And what are the ramifications of such a function in the formation of a state of affairs? I shall not really provide any sort of speculation here—any kind of “answers” that is—but rather remain limited to the writing of a few words on certain themes relevant to the topic, with a focus on Ethics.

Ethics is the realm of all normative propositions. It is the province of thought that encompasses statements about the “what ought to be” regardless of—or in spite of—the “what is”, however that may be defined. Strictly speaking, to be ethical is not tantamount to being religious; it simply—and only—means that one operates in relative or absolute conformity with one’s system of truths. Whether religion qua code of morality comes into effect, to permeate and to determine one’s set of truths, is secondary to this consideration.

Note that I use the word “truth” in its literal sense and am doing so quite deliberatively, since it seems to me that to assent to a specific ethical ‘fact’ or ‘rule’ is to consider it true or truer—and de facto more preferable—than any other alternative in that context. This decision effectively is the ascription of an absolute or ordinal truth-value (positive or negative) to a proposition or course of action; and once considered per se and not whether it is rational or not, correct or false, it occurs at the logical and/or subconscious level.

If we are to strip away the specifics of any moral code or set of values and proceed to examine the logical-psychic structure underlying morality, we will come down to two primary assumptions: (1) all that is moral is imaginary and, (2) ethical truth is determined in juxtaposition to the phantasm of the ego. To pit further stress on these rudimentary hypotheses, we may venture to claim thus:

  • The “imaginary” is the representation of the case and it also is the impression of the fact. In social terms the imaginary is that which is instituted as either representation or impression in the topos of first politics (metapolitics), through a process of collective self-identification that occurs in the magnitude of the spatio-temporal (which when combined with politics, broadly understood, is equivalent to the historical-cultural). The imaginary is neither absurd nor unreal. On the contrary, it is sensible and real, for as long as it is, to the extent that it is, in the way that is, when—and only when—its foundations are not subjected to critical examination. In other words, the imaginary holds valid for as long as it is taken as a given, as an exteriority to the person or as a product of heteronomy to the society.
  • The ego is the primary structure of imagination that the self erects in an incessant process of identification. The ego is therefore changing while remaining, as significations are removed from or attached to it. The construction of the ego can be personal and inter-personal; that is to suggest that the self has the potential to define itself, while the “self” is immersed in a milieu of primary and secondary rules that determine it profoundly.

If any of this may be considered as acceptable, then self-criticism may be a means of influencing the representation of the case, the impression of the fact and the structure of the ego. If the self, by being critical, is able to overcome the self, to eradicate the structure it erected and to build it anew; then, through a process of created-and-creating differentiation, criticism can engender new representations, impressions and egos; all of which may have an impact on the very circumstantial milieu in which they were immersed or made manifest. Thus, ethics qua inter-subjective set of truths can be susceptible to change, to relativity, by the transformative, reformulative or destructive power of criticism.

An inference I have drawn since quite long, is that an ethical person, in being self-critical and in applying their tenets consistently, can never really be a moralising person. They can never tell other people what is right or wrong (true or false) for such a postulation would render obsolete the very function of self-criticism as ultimate doubt and self-doubt. What then is of interest is this: if my truth is questionable by me, if “me” is also questionable, then how can one blithely proceed to uncritically adopt and internalize the other’s truths?

Consider applying that kind of question to a political context and you may come up with some ‘interesting’ thoughts :-)

Have a nice day!