John Caputo is my favorite living philosopher (sorry Peter Singer xoxo bb). Not only is he hilarious, he knocks the way you currently think about things on its butt—the most essential quality of a good philosopher.
In Against Ethics he basically kills our concept of what the whole field of ethics is. It gets somewhat psychological—since we know we can never have an ethic that is general enough to debate and particular enough to act on, why is it such a popular subject of study? What I approached as a solid branch of philosophy, I came to view as a kind of impotent posturing (my words) by humans who need to figure out exactly where the ethical line is in order that we can do just enough good to assuage our guilt, and then stop. We don’t study ethics so that we can figure out how to help people, we study it so we can talk ourselves out of it.
Here are fifteen thought-provoking quotes that give you a good idea of what his theory is. Consider trading in your beach read for one of his books this summer, I can promise you will have your mind blown.
I am against ethics. Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise.
Ethics makes safe. It throws a net of safety under the judgments we are forced to make, the daily, hourly decisions that make up the texture of our lives.
For the idea behind ethics is to have something to say about the particular choices and particular situations in which individuals find themselves.
Life does not ask if we are prepared and it does not have the decency to wait until we are ready. Even though we lack a criteriology, a law of laws, we are still not dispensed from judging. We are from the start before the law, forced to act and choose, to judge and respond.
The Law is the arche, the universal, which cannot, in virtue of its very structure as law, lay hold of its other, which is the singular.
Laws are always oversized or undersized, too sweeping or too narrow, more or less bad fits. A perfect set of laws would have to be cut to fit; it would have to mention everybody by name, a project which, I will be the first to concede, is too much for me…Only the most affluent, the most overflowing would be able to afford a subscription to the whole set.
The law falls short—inevitably, structurally—of justice, which deals in proper names. That is why I would say that the law is a fall from the individual; the individual is not a fall…from the law.
Good laws try to defend the weak against the strong, to lift up those who are laid low. But the law cannot see what it is doing; it is against the law to use proper names. So the law produces injustice in the very act of promoting justice. The law wants justice but justice is always wanting in the law. As hard as the law tries, there is always something left over after the application of the law, a remnant, and undigested morsel, a loose fragment, a shard.
If someone really demands a principle or a foundation, if they want a cognitive basis, a theory, or a principle, before proceeding, they will, I fear, never get underway.
We know our obligations because we meet up with them, face to face.
The precise difficulty is that the rules are ruleless. If there were still more rules, if there were more fine-grained microrules for the larger rules, then the microrules would have no rules…somewhere down the line that leads from the universal schema to the idiosyncratic situation, from the general idea to the singularity of the event, to what is the here and now (agendum), there is a gap that must be crossed.
When someone turns to us and speaks, the law dissolves before our eyes, for the law is never anything more than a schema, a general rule, a universal, while the individual is what happens. The law can never be cut to fit the singular, or else there would be as many laws as there are individuals.
The disaster is to apply homologic in the field of heterology, to treat the poorest and neediest homologically, blindly, with (mere) equity, to give them (merely) equal standing under the law who are laid low. It makes homologic sense, under the law, to be color-blind or gender-blind or race-blind, but it is merciless and bad heterologic if you have been laid low by your color or your gender or your race.
It is not a question of finding an answer to the night of truth but of sitting up with one another through the night, of dividing the abyss in half in a companionship that is its own meaning.