07/25/2018

Transculturality and a call for Non-Nihilistic Ethics

by Felipe da Fonseca.

Brazilian researcher Felipe da Fonseca is actually doing his doctoral thesis in Practical Philosophy (Applied Ethics) at the Albert Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg/Husserl-Archiv Freiburg and at UFRJ. Based on his academic background of law and philosophy, his aim is to apply existential anthropology in the fields of ethics and law. Next to his research, he is also working in the field of compliance and integrity programs. In his first blogpost for the Transcultural Caravan, he writes about the relationship between Nihilism, non-nihilistic ethics and transculturality.

It is my pleasure to share some thoughts about the relationship between transculturality and a topic that I really like to research: the theme of the three non-nihilistic European ethics. Before reflecting about the non-nihilistic ethics I am researching, I would like to briefly explain what Nihilism is. During my elaborations, relations with the concept of transculturality will be made at all times.

So what is Nihilism? We can easily and simply understand Nihilism as the attempt to ground ethics and morality – the ways we behave or should behave – rationally. Reason, in turn, must be understood as that way of thinking that begins in Ancient Greece and reaches its apex with Modern Science. This way of thinking imposes relations to nature in order to predict behavior and dominate it. This calculating reason achieves its goal brilliantly: we live in a technologically advanced world and we will not give it up. But when this same reason is used to ground ethics or morality, i.e. to determine our free behavior, then we encounter some problems coming along with the concepts of Nihilism. One nihilistic ethics is the Utilitarism, so dear to the businessmen for example, but only because they ignore more appropriate options to their way of being.

The relationship (or lack of relation) between Nihilism and Transculturality begins to emerge: holders of the powerful calculating reason, the Western World has produced very powerful artifacts of domination – indisputably valid because materially real. It happens that, along with this real material superiority, Westerners got to believe – and have made the others believe – to be superior beings because supposedly rationally oriented: their rational ethics (nihilistic) would be superior and more human than the primitive ethics of the colonized.

As we can already understand, belief in reason as an absolute guide to behavior does not respect the ethics of the other; it does not respect transculturality, since the ethics of the other often does not follow Western rational parameters. Ethical nihilists are, in these terms, anti-transcultural, since they preach uniculturality, the culture of calculating reason. Hence the dichotomy: what is not rational from the calculating point of view, is irrational, inferior, primitive, animal.
I, particularly, after realizing the destruction that Existential Anthropology operated on these nihilistic ethics, realized that there were non-nihilistic ethics, especially three: the ethics of love – adapted to the nihilistic scenario by Dostoevsky; the ethics of serenity – adapted to the nihilistic scenario by Heidegger; and the ethics of hybris from Homer – still lacking adaptation to the nihilistic scenario -.

These three non-nihilistic European ethics have a double transcultural character: a) on one hand, they affirm respect for the other: the ethics of love commands love even towards the enemy, the ethics of serenity commands that we should let beings be what they are, and the ethic of hybris states that any excessive action will be punished, therefore, commands the correct measure in the acts; b) on the other hand, having no belief in the superiority of calculating reason, the non-nihilistic ethics are open to dialogue with regional ethics. Non-nihilistic ethics are transcultural in their essence.

In order not to lengthen more, I will illustrate what is stated above: in a letter to students of the Moscow College of April 18, 1878, Dostoevsky spoke of those cults in the social theories from Europe: “[…] they are not going to learn from the people, but to instruct them, to arrogantly instruct them with contempt: a purely aristocratic pastime.”

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