9781781680186_ethics-max_221

Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil

One of the most powerful voices in contemporary French philosophy explodes the facile assumptions behind the recent ethical turn.
Ethical questions dominate current political and academic agendas. While government think-tanks ponder the dilemmas of bio-ethics, medical ethics and professional ethics, respect for human rights and reverence for the Other have become matters of broad consensus.

Alain Badiou, one of the most powerful voices in contemporary French philosophy, explodes the facile assumptions behind this recent ethical turn. He shows how our prevailing ethical principles serve ultimately to reinforce an ideology of the status quo, and fail to provide a framework for an effective understanding of the concept of evil.

In contrast, Badiou summons up an “ethic of truths” which is designed both to sustain and inspire a disciplined, subjective adherence to a militant cause (be it political or scientific, artistic or romantic), and to discern a finely demarcated zone of application for the concept of evil. He defends an effectively super-human integrity over the respect for merely human rights, asserts a partisan universality over the negotiation of merely particular interests, and appeals to an “immortal” value beyond the protection of mortal privileges.

Reviews

  • “This is a fiery little book. ”
  • “His reasoning is powerful and surprising, making some of the best writing in current European philosophy, and his credentials are impeccable.”
  • “Badiou is at his strongest in pointing to the inconsistencies of a facile multiculturalism, the pluralism of the food court and the shopping mall, which wilts in the face of any genuine expression of cultural hostility to liberal values.”
  • “His lively, stimulating and sometimes completely batty book is an attempt to make us think differently about what matters to us ... it is hard not to feel some sympathy for Badiou's intuition that 'morality', 'evil' and indeed much of our standard moral vocabulary often serve as almost deliberate disguises for mediocre policy-making, social complacency and a general lack of adventurousness about life”

Blog

  • Philosophy Undergraduate Reading List: 50% off!

    All the books on this list are 50% off until Tuesday 8th September as part of our Back to University/Back to School sale. See all the books included in the sale here.

    Here's Verso essential reading for all those budding philosophers. All books on the reading list are part of our Undergraduate reading list 50% sale!


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  • Eleven Melancholic Points Regarding the Future of the Greek Situation

    In July, in the wake of the ‘No’ vote in Greece’s referendum, the philosopher Alain Badiou expressed his hope that a new sequence was opening up. A few hours after Alexis Tsipras’s resignation, he bemoaned the Greek prime minister and his advisors missing this ‘unique’ political opportunity. 

    Translated by David Broder

    1 We thought that we were right in thinking that the guiding principle of Syriza, winner of the Greek elections, was a vigorous ‘No’ to austerity. As such, we thought that it would categorically refuse all the anti-social, regressive conditions – attacking the most basic principles of the aspiration to equality and a tolerable life for the people – which the various financial authorities and their European cover made the condition of their loans.  Many people furthermore rejoiced in the possibility of a new political orientation finally emerging in Europe, one absolutely different from the reactionary consensus in which all states have kept their respective public opinion for thirty years, whether out of consent or by force.

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  • Badiou's Happiness Lesson

    Is it selfish to want to be happy? On the contrary, thinks Alain Badiou: happiness is fundamentally egalitarian and to demand it, against its apparent impossibility, is a militant act. The interview below was translated by David Broder; see the original French text here.

    (Photo: Badiou at Kendall College of Art and Design, Grand Rapids, 2014)

    What encounters proved most decisive in giving your life its direction?

    Alain Badiou: Before theatre and philosophy, it was something that my father said. Indeed, during the Second World War I had this screen memory take form, which was of decisive importance for my subsequent existence. I was six years old at the time. My father, who was in the Resistance – for which reason he was appointed Mayor of Toulouse upon Liberation – put up a big map of the military operations, in particular covering the developments on the Russian front. The frontline was marked out by a thin piece of string, pinned to the wall with tacks. I saw that the string and the tacks kept moving, though I did not ask too many questions; as a man operating in clandestinity, in front of the children my father was evasive about anything regarding the political situation and the war. This was spring 1944. One day, at the moment of the Soviet offensive in Crimea, I saw my father moving the string further left, clearly showing that the Germans were retreating toward the West. Not only had their conquering advance been held back, but now it was they who were losing vast swathes of territory. With a flash of understanding I said to him, ‘But then, maybe we’ll win the war?’ and for once he gave a very clear answer: ‘But of course, Alain! We just need to want it’.
     

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Other books by Alain Badiou Translated by Peter Hallward