Love of one's neighbor
A SPECIAL GOD
FOOL AND KNAVE
THE TRUTH ABOUT TRUTH
WHY JOUISSANCE IS EVIL
You know that last time I picked up my discussion with you by connecting it to my lecture to the Catholics.
Don't imagine that that was an easy way out. I didn't merely serve up again what I had to say in Brussels; I didn't tell them half of what I told you.
What I laid out last time concerning the death of God the Father will lead us to another question today, one that will show you Freud situating himself directly at the center of our true experience. For he doesn't attempt to evade the issue by making generalizations about the religious function in man. He is concerned with the way in which it manifests itself to us, that is to say, in the commandment which is expressed in our civilization in the form of the love of one's neighbor.
[When Lacan speaks of the religious function of the commandment to love one's neighbor, he puts us on notice that here one is asked to sacrifice oneself, to sacrifice one's jouissance for the other. Or is it the Other, the dead God of the symbolic order speaking through those priests who speak as if the old religious law has been superceded by a new form of subjectivity which has identified itself with the "law" of love. Still, our narcissism being what it is under the imaginary, perhaps, speaking ironically now, we do "love" our neighbor as we do ourselves. That's what the mirror of the imaginary is all about.]
Freud confronts this commandment directly. And if you take the time to read Civilization and Its Discontents, you will see that that is where he begins, where he remains throughout, and where he ends up. He talks of nothing but that. What he has to say on the subject should under normal circumstances make our ears ring and set our teeth on edge. But that doesn't happen. It's a funny thing, but once a text has been in print for a certain period of time, it allows the transitory vertigo that is the vital source of its meaning to evaporate.
So I will try to reanimate the meaning of Freud's lines today. And since that will lead me toward some pretty potent notions, all I can do is ask language, what Freud would call logos, to lend me a measured tone.
1 It should be borne in mind throughout the following discussion that "le mal" in French includes the ideas both of "evil" and of "suffering."P>
God, then, is dead. Since he is dead, he always has been. I explained to you Freud's theory on the topic, namely, the myth expressed in Totem and Taboo. It is precisely because God is dead, has always been dead, that it was possible to transmit a message via all those beliefs which made him appear to be still alive, resurrected from the emptiness left by his death in those noncontradictory gods whom Freud indicates proliferated above all in Egypt.
[God has always been dead. That is, the covenant that promises one the land of milk and honey if one keeps the Father's law (think of Abraham, Moses et al ) has always been a sham. Yet this very death makes it possible to "advertise" the benefits of belief.
Conversely, if we, each in recognizing our alienation, kill afresh this "God" always waiting to demand our sacrifice, by the "light that" thus "warms" our lives, we gain access to Akhenaton's God, "the God of the secret message," the message that we acknowledge when we claim our jouissance. Such a "God" may be "loved" only intellectually, for this God is a God of paradox, not a promiser of happiness or blessed goodness.]
The message in question is that of a single God who is both the Lord of the universe and the dispenser of the light that warms life and spreads the brightness of consciousness. His attributes are those of a thought which regulates the order of the real. It is Akhenaton's God, the God of the secret message that the Jewish people bears by reason of the fact that, by assassinating Moses, it reenactod the archaic murder of the father. That, according to Freud, is the God to whom the sentiment, of which only a few are capable, is addressed, namely, amor intellectualis Dei.
[It is Spinoza that is referred to below as "the famous polisher of lenses." Spinoza defended an atheism with respect to the traditional God of Moses and of Christianity. The intellectual love of "God" as Lacan here is referring to it through this allusion to Spinoza is an awful regard for the ways of this paradoxical, mysterious spirit in things--normally masked in our imaginary inscription in/subjection to the law of the dead God.] Freud also knows that, although that love is articulated now and then in the thought of such exceptional men as the famous polisher of lenses who lived in Holland, it is nevertheless not of such great importance; it didn't prevent the construction in the same period of Versailles, a building whose style proves that the Colossus of Daniel with the feet of clay was still standing upright, as is still the case, although it had collapsed a hundred times.
[[[Philosophy]] and science have their versions of religious belief. Here Lacan is speaking especially of dialectical "sciences" --from Hegel to Marx and beyond-- which look for the growth of knowledge to unfold the complex unity, even purposive unity, of reality. By invoking a dialectical progress, the believers of today want to worship both the traditional God and the "God" of mystery, whose secret they thus suppose will be eventually revealed.]
No doubt a science has been erected on the fragile belief I was discussing, namely, the one that is expressed in the following terms, which always reappear at the horizon of our aims: "The real is rational, the rational is real."
It's a strange thing that if the science in question has made use of the belief, it has nevertheless remained subservient, remained in the service of the colossus I just referred to, the one that has collapsed a hundred times and is still there. The fervent love that a solitary individual like Spinoza or Freud may feel for the God of the message has nothing to do with the God of the believers. Nobody doubts that, and especially the believers themselves, who, whether Jews or Christians, have never failed to cause Spinoza trouble.
But it is odd to see that for some time now, since it became known that God was dead, the believers involved practice ambiguity. By referring to the dialectical God, they are seeking an alibi for the crisis of confidence in their faith. It is a paradoxical fact, which hadn't occurred before in history, that the torch of Akhenaton functions nowadays as an alibi for the disciples of Ammon.
[These references to Akhenaton and a second Moses, Egyptian rather than Midianite, allude to Freud's mythical reconstruction/genealogy of Judaic
Christian belief in God in Moses and Monotheism and Totem and Taboo. ]
And I don't say this to slander the historical role played by the God of the believers, the God of the Judeo-Christian tradition. That the message of Akhenaton's God was preserved in the tradition of the latter made it worthwhile for Moses the Egyptian to be confused with the Midianite, with the Moses whose Thing, speaking from the burning bush, affirmed himself to be a special God - not the only God, note, but a special God, compared to whom all the others don't count. I don't want to emphasize more than nocessary the line I am pursuing today on this point; it's not, strictly speaking, that it is forbidden to honor other gods, but you musn't do it in the presence of the God of Israel - the distinction is no doubt important for historians.
We who are trying to articulate Freud's thought and experience so as to give them their due weight and importance, we will articulate it in the following form: if this Symptom-God, this Totem-God or taboo, is worthy of our pondering the claim to turn him into a myth, it is because he was the vehicle of the God of truth. It is by means of the former that the truth about God could come to light, namely, that God was really killed by men, and that once the thing was reenacted, the primitive murder was redeemed. Truth found its way via him who the Scriptures no doubt call the Word, but also the Son of Man, thereby admitting the human nature of the Father.
[Of course it is the very impotence of the God of the law by comparison with what this God promises, that makes it necessary to "kill" the traditional God, so that the "God" of the secret message, the God of jouissance, can be revealed. Thus if the commandment of the traditional God is not supreme, the signifier/name of "God" is missing. Traditional religion and the ethics that follow upon it tell us "God is . . . " supposing that the "name" of God may be given. You may notice that there is more than a family resemblance here between what Lacan is saying and Lyotard's equation of the death of God with the failure of all metanarratives of truth.]
Freud does not overlook the No/Name-of-the-Father. On the contrary, he speaks about it very well in Moses and Monotheism - in a contradictory way clearly, if you fail to take Totem and Taboo for what it is, namely, a myth; and he says that in human history the recognition of the function of the Father is a sublimation that is essential to the opening up of a spirituality that represents something new, a step forward in the apprehension of reality as such.<
[All of this generates the problematic of what a good father, a good symbolic parent, should be understood to be. If one can't answer for one's authority by referring to the legitimate laws of the moral/symbolic order, how should one tackle the responsibilities of being symbolic parent?]
Freud also doesn't overlook - far from it - the real father. It is desirable according to Freud that in the course of the adventure of the subject, there is, if not the Father as God, then at least the Father as good father. I will read you some time the passage in which Freud speaks almost tenderly of the exquisiteness of that virile identification which flows from the love for the father and from his role in the normalization of desire. But that result only occurs in a favorable form as long as everything is in order with the No/ Name-of-the-Father, that is to say, with the God who doesn't exist. The resulting situation for this good father is a remarkably difficult one; to a certain extent he is an insecure figure.
[This problematic may more generally be understood to be the problematic of the legitimacy of our basic moral, political, social and cultural institutions. Perhaps it was in a sense easier when people had a more innocent confidence in the "Father's" institutions. One suffered and yet believed. This is no longer possible for us. That is what Nietzsche's proclamation "God is dead" means.]
We know this only too well in practice. And it is also articulated in the Oedipus myth - although the latter also shows as well that it is preferable for the subject himself to be unaware of these reasons. But he now knows them, and the fact of knowing them is precisely that which has certain consequences in our time.
These consequences are self-evident. They can be seen in common speech and, indeed, in the speech of the analyst. If we want to complete the task we have given ourselves this year, it is only fitting that we articulate them.
Let me note in passing that as the first person to demystify the function of the Father, Freud himself couldn't be a thoroughly good father. I don't want to dwell on it today; it is something we can sense through his biography, and it could be the topic of a special chapter. Suffice it to characterize him as what he was, a bourgeois whose biographer and admirer, Jones, calls "uxorious." As we all know, he wasn't a model father.
[Among the women alluded to here are Anna Freud, Melanie Kline, and Marie Bonaparte. The master-fools are Jones, Abraham, and others, who make of Freud such a poor intellectual parent by conflating orthodoxy with the secret message which Freud leaves in a writing that seeks to disrupt itself, to disrupt efforts to turn it into "relgious" law.]
There, too, where he was truly the father, the father of us all, the father of psychoanalysis, what did he do but hand it over to the women, and also perhaps to the master-fools? As far as the women are concerned, we should reserve judgment; they are beings who remain rich in promise, at least to the extent that they haven't yet lived up to them. As for the master-fools, that's another story altogether.
The discussion of knaves and fools should be seen as continuing with the problematic of the good symbolic parent who knows that God is dead. Left-wing intellectuals, individually at least, are likened to court jesters, fools who show the king to be a fool. They show themselves to be good-hearted when they expose the suffering that we are subject to under the reign of all the dead Gods. But when left-wing intellectuals get together to act collectively they become fools in another sense, thinking that somehow they will be able to institute a political order that will have true moral legitimacy. In the name of such a God they do great evil, become real scoundrels, knaves.]
To the extent that a sensitive subject such as ethics is not nowadays separable from what is called ideology, it seems to me appropriate to offer here some clarification of the political meaning of this turning point in ethics for which we, the inheritors of Freud, are responsible.
That is why I spoke of master-fools. This expression may seem impertinent, indeed not exempt from a certain excess. I would like to make clear here what in my view is involved.
There was a time, an already distant time right at the beginning of our Society, you will remember, when we spoke of intellectuals in connection with Plato's Meno. I would like to make a few condensed comments on the subject, but I believe they will prove to be illuminating.
It was noted then that, for a long time now, there have been left-wing intellectuals and right-wing intellectuals. I would like to give you formulas for them that, however categorical they may appear at first sight, might nevertheless help to illuminate the way.
"Fool" (sot) or, if you like, "simpleton" (deme uré)-- quite a nice term for which I have a certain fondness - these words only express approximately a certain something for which the English language and its literature seem to me to offer a more helpful signifier - I will come back to this later. A tradition that begins with Chaucer, but which reaches its full development in the theater of the Elizabethan period is, in effect, centered on the term "fool."2
The "fool" is an innocent, a simpleton, but truths issue from his mouth that are not simply tolerated but adopted, by virtue of the fact that this "fool" is sometimes clothed in the insignia of the jester. And in my view it is a similar happy shadow, a similar fundamental "foolery," that accounts for the importance of the left-wing intellectual.
2 In this and subsequent passages, the words "fool" and "knave" along with "foolery" and "knavery" in quotation marks are in English in the original.
And I contrast this with the designation for that which the same tradition furnishes a strictly contemporary term, a term that is used in conjunction with the former, namely, "knave" - if we have the time, I will show you the texts, which are numerous and unambiguous.
At a certain level of its usage "knave" may be translated into French as valet, but "knave" goes further. He's not a cynic with the element of heroism implied by that attitude. He is, to be precise, what Stendhal called an "unmitigatod scoundrel." That is to say, no more than your Mr. Everyman, but your Mr. Everyman with greater strength of character.
Everyone knows that a certain way of presenting himself, which constitutes part of the ideology of the right-wing intellectual, is precisely to play the role of what he is in fact, namely, a "knave." In other words, he doesn't retreat from the consequences of what is called realism; that is, when required, he admits he's a crook.
[Individually, the knave, the right-wing intellectual also has something to recommend it, even if a knave is basically a crook. But gathering crooks together to form a political party, ideology, engenders its own foolish and cruel orthodoxies.]
This is only of interest if one considers things from the point of view of their result. After all, a crook is certainly worth a fool, at least for the entertainment he gives, if the result of gathering crooks into a herd did not inevitably lead to a collective foolery. That is what makes the politics of rightwing ideology so depressing.
But what is not sufficiently noted is that by a curious chiasma, the "foolery" which constitutes the individual style of the left-wing intellectual gives rise to a collective "knavery."
What I am proposing here for you to reflect on has, I don't deny, the character of a confession. Those of you who know me are aware of my reading habits; you know which weeklies lie around on my desk. The thing I enjoy most, I must admit, is the spectacle of collective knavery exhibited in them - that innocent chicanery, not to say calm impudence, which allows them to express so many heroic truths without wanting to pay the price. It is thanks to this that what is affirmed concerning the horrors of Mammon on the first page leads, on the last, to purrs of tenderness for this same Mammon.
Freud was perhaps not a good father, but he was neither a crook nor an imbecile. That is why one can say about him two things which are disconcerting in their connection and their opposition. He was a humanitarian - who after checking his works will contest that? - and we must acknowledge it, however discredited the term might be by the crooks on the right. But, on the other hand, he wasn't a simpleton, so that one can say as well, and we have the texts to prove it, that he was no progressive.
I am sorry but it's a fact, Freud was in no way a progressive. And as far as this is concerned, there are even some extraordinarily scandalous things in his writings. From the pen of one of our guides, the little optimism manifested for the perspectives opened by the masses is certainly apt to shock, but it is indispensable for us to remember that, if we want to know where we stand.
You will see in what follows the usefulness of such remarks, which may appear crude.
One of my friends and patients had a dream which bore the traces of some yearning or other stimulated in him by the formulations of this seminar, a dream in which someone cried out concerning me, "But why doesn't he tell the truth about truth?"
I quote this, since it is an impatience that I have heard expressed by a great many in other forms than dreams. The formula is true to a certain extent - I perhaps don't tell the truth about truth. But haven't you noticed that in wanting to tell it - something that is the chief preoccupation of those who are called metaphysicians - it often happens that not much truth is left? That's what is so risky about such a pretension. It is a pretension that so easily lands us at the level of a certain knavery. And isn't there also a certain "knavery," a metaphysical "knavery," when one of our modern treatises on metaphysics, under this guise of the truth about truth, lets a great many things by which truly ought not to be let by?
I am content to tell the truth of the first stage and to proceed step by step. When I say that Freud is a humanitarian but not a progressive, I say something true. Let's try to follow the thread and take another true step.
We started out from the truth, which we must take to be a truth if we follow Freud's analysis, that we know God is dead.
[How can jouissance still be forbidden when we know that God is dead? ]
However, the next step is that God himself doesn't know that. And one may suppose that he never will know it because he has always been dead. This formula nevertheless leads us to something that we have to resolve here, to something that remains on our hands from this adventure, something that changes the bases of the ethical problem, namely, that jouissance still remains forbidden as it was before, before we knew that God was dead.
[Jouissance remains an evil (even if it is also a good). It is an evil because it involves not my own suffering (though there is that too to be considered) but because it involves suffering for my neighbor.]
That's what Freud says. And that's the truth - if not the truth about truth, then at least the truth about what Freud has to say.
As a result, if we continue to follow Freud in a text such as Civilization and Its Discontents, we cannot avoid the formula that jouissance is evil. Freud leads us by the hand to this point: it is suffering because it involves suffering for my neighbor.
This may shock you, upset certain habits, cause consternation among the happy souls. But it can't be helped; that's what Freud says. And he says it at the point of origin of our experience. He wrote Civilization and Its Discontents to tell us this. That's what was increasingly announced, promulgated, publicized, as analytical experience progressed. It has a name; it's what is known as beyond the pleasure principle. And it has effects that are by no means metaphysical; they oscillate between a "certainly not" and a "perhaps."
Those who like fairy stories turn a deaf ear to talk of man's innate tendencies to "evil, aggression, destruction, and thus also to cruelty." And Freud's text goes on: "Man tries to satisfy his need for aggression at the expense of his neighbor, to exploit his work without compensation, to use him sexually without his consent, to appropriate his goods, to humiliate him, to inflict suffering on him, to torture and kill him."3
If I hadn't told you the title of the work from which this passage comes, I could have pretended it was from Sade. Moreover, my upcoming lecture will, in effect, concern the Sadean account of the problem of morality.
For the time being, we will stick to Freud. Civilization and Its Discontents concerns the effort to rethink the problem of evil once one acknowledges that it is radically altered by the absence of God. This problem has always been avoided by the moralists in a way that is literally calculated to arouse our disgust once we have been alerted to the terms of the experience.
Whoever he might be, the traditional moralist always falls back into the rut of persuading us that pleasure is a good, that the path leading to good is blazed by pleasure. The trap is striking, for it has a paradoxical character that lends it its air of audacity. One is, so to speak, swindled in the second degree; one assumes there is just a hidden drawer, and one is pleased to have found it, but one is screwed even more when one has found it than if one hadn't even suspected its existence. Something that is relatively rare, for everyone can see that there's something fishy.
What does Freud have to say about this? Even before the formulations of Beyond the Pleasure Principle, it is evident that the first formulation of the pleasure principle as an unpleasure principle, or least-suffering principle, naturally embodies a beyond, but that it is, in effect, calculated to keep us on this side of it rather than beyond it. Freud's use of the good can be summed up in the notion that it keeps us a long way from our jouissance.
Nothing is more obvious in our clinical experience. Who is there who in the name of pleasure doesn't start to weaken when the first half-serious step is taken toward jouissance? Isn't that something we encounter directly everyday?
One can understand, therefore, the dominance of hedonism in the moral teachings of a certain philosophical tradition, whose motives do not seem to us to be absolutely reliable or disinterested.
In truth, it isn't because they have emphasized the beneficial effects of pleasure that we criticize the so-called hedonist tradition. It is rather because they haven't stated what the good consisted of. That's where the fraud is. In the light of this one can understand that Freud was literally horrified by the idea of love for one's neighbor.
3 S.E. XXI, p. iii.
One's neighbor in German is der Nachste. "Du sollst den Nachsten lieben wie sich selbst" - that's how the commandment, "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself," is expressed in German. Freud underlines the excessive side of this by means of an argument that starts from several different points, which are, in fact, one and the same.
In the first place, the neighbor, whose fundamental nature is, as you have seen, revealed in Freud's writings, is bad. But that's not all there is to it. Freud also says - and it shouldn't make you smile just because it is expressed in a somewhat sparse manner - my love is something precious and I'm not going to give it whole to whomever claims to be what he is, simply because he happened to come by.
Freud makes comments àbout this that are quite right, moving comments on the subject of what is worth loving. He reveals how one must love a friend's son because, if the friend were to lose his son, his suffering would be intolerable. The whole Arisotelian conception of the good is alive in this man who is a true man; he tells us the most sensitive and reasonable things about what it is worth sharing the good that is our love with. But what escapes him is perhaps the fact that precisely because we take that path we miss the opening on to jouissance.
It is in the nature of the good to be altruistic. But that's not the love of thy neighbor. Freud makes us feel this without articulating it fully. We will now attempt, without forcing anything, to do so in his stead.
We can found our case on the following, namely, that every time that Freud stops short in horror at the consequences of the commandment to love one's neighbor, we see evoked the presence of that fundamental evil which dwells within this ncighbor. But if that is the case, then it also dwells within me. And what is more of a ncighbor to me than this heart within which is that of my jouissance and which I don't dare go near? For as soon as I go near it, as Civilization and Its Discontents makes clear, there rises up the unfathomable aggressivity from which I flee, that I turn against me, and which in the very place of the vanished Law adds its weight to that which prevents me from crossing a certain frontier at the limit of the Thing.
As long as it's a question of the good, there's no problem; our own and our neighbor's are of the same material. Saint Martin shares his cloak, and a great deal is made of it. Yet it is after all a simple question of training; material is by its very nature made to be disposed of - it belongs to the other as much as it belongs to me. We are no doubt touching a primitive requirement in the need to be satisfied there, for the beggar is naked. But perhaps over and above that need to be clothed, he was begging for something else, namely, that Saint Martin either kill him or fuck him. In any encounter there's a big difference in meaning between the response of philanthropy and that of love.
It is in the nature of the useful to be utilized. If I can do something in less time and with less trouble than someone near me, I would instinctively do it in his place, in return for which I am damned for what I have to do for that most neighborly of neighbors who is inside me. I am damned for having assured him to whom it would cost more time and trouble than me, what precisely? - some measure of ease that only means something because I imagine that, if I had that ease or absence of work, I would make the best possible use of it. But it is far from proven that I would know how to do so, even if I had all the power required to satisfy myself. Perhaps I would simply be bored.
Consequently, by granting others such power, perhaps I am just leading them astray. I imagine their difficulties and their sufferings in the mirror of my own. It is certainly not imagination that I lack; it is, if anything, tenderness, namely, what might be called the difficult way, love for one's neighbor. And here again you may note how the trap of the same paradox occurs to us in connection with the so-called discourse of utilitarianism.
I began my lectures this year with the onerous topic of the utilitarians, but the utilitarians are quite right. They are countered with something that, in effect, only makes the task of countering them much more difficult, with a sentence such as "But, Mr. Bentham, my good is not the same as another's good, and your principle of the greatest good for the greatest number comes up against the demands of my egoism." But it's not true. My egoism is quite content with a certain altruism, altruism of the kind that is situated on the level of the useful. And it even becomes the pretext by means of which I can avoid taking up the problem of the evil I desire, and that my ncighbor desires also. That is how I spend my life, by cashing in my time in a dollar zone, ruble zone or any other zone, in my neighbor's time, where all the neighbors are maintained equally at the marginal level of reality of my own existence. Under these conditions it is hardly surprising that everyone is sick, that civilization has its discontents.
It is a fact of experience that what I want is the good of others in the image of my own. That doesn't cost so much. What I want is the good of others provided that it remain in the image of my own. I would even say that the whole thing deteriorates so rapidly that it becomes: provided that it depend on my efforts. I don't even need to ask you to go very far into your patients' experience: if I wish for my spouse's happiness, I no doubt sacrifice my own, but who knows if her happiness isn't totally dissipated, too?
Perhaps the meaning of the love of one's neighbor that could give me the true direction is to be found here. To that end, however, one would have to know how to confront the fact that my neighbor's jouissance, his harmful, malignant jouissance, is that which poses a problem for my love.
It wouldn't be difficult at this point to take a leap in the direction of the excesses of the mystics. Unfortunately, many of their most notable qualities always strike me as somewhat puerile.
No doubt the question of beyond the pleasure principle, of the place of the unnarneable Thing and of what goes on there, is raised in certain acts that provoke our judgment, acts of the kind attributed to a certain Angela de Folignio, who joyfully lapped up the water in which she had just washed the feet of lepers - I will spare you the details, such as the fact that a piece of skin stuck in her throat, etc. - or to the blessed Marie Allacoque, who, with no less a reward in spiritual uplift, ate the excrement of a sick man. The power of conviction of these no doubt edifying facts would vary quite a lot if the excrement in question were that of a beautiful girl or if it were a question of eating the come of a forward from your rugby team. In other words, the erotic side of things remains veiled in the above examples.
That is why I will have to back up a little. We are now on the threshold of exploring something which has after all attempted to break down the doors of the hell within. Its claim to do so is clearly much greater than ours. Yet it is our concern, too. And that is why, in order to show you step by step the ways in which access to the problem of jouissance may be envisaged, I will lead you through what someone by the name of Sade has had to say about it.
I would certainly need a couple of months to talk about Sadism. I will not talk about Sade as eroticist, for he is definitely an inferior eroticist. The path of jouissance with a woman is not necessarily to subject her to all the acts practiced on poor Justine. On the other hand, in the domain of the articulation of ethical questions, it seems to me that Sade has some very solid things to say, at least in connection with the problem that currently concerns us.
Before I take up the question next time, I would like to end today by making you sense this in connoction with a contemporary example, namely, Kant's, which I have already devoted some time to - and it's not for nothing that it is contemporary with Sade.In the example in question Kant claims to prove the weight of the Law, formulated by him as practical reason, as something that imposes itself in purely reasonable terms, that is to say, divorced from all pathological affect, as he puts it, which means with no motive that appeals to the subject's interest. This is a critical exercise that will bring us back to the very center of the problem we are addressing today.
Let me remind you that Kant's example is made up of two little stories. The first concerns the individual who is placed in the situation of being executod on his way out, if he wants to spend time with the lady whom he desires unlawfully - it's not a waste of time to emphasize this, because even the apparently simplest details constitute traps. The other case is that of someone who lives at the court of a despot and who is put in the position of either bearing false wituess against someone who, as a result, will lose his life or of being put to death himself if he doesn't do it.
Thereupon, Kant, our dear Kant, tells us in all his innocence, his innocent subterfuge, that in the first case everyone, every man of good sense, will say no. For the sake of spending a night with a woman, no one would be mad enough to accept an outcome that would be fatal to him, since it isn't a question of combat but of death by hanging. For Kant, the answer to the question is not in doubt.
In the other case, whatever the degree of pleasure promised as a result of bearing false witness or whatever the harshness of the penalty following the refusal to bear such witness, one can at least assume that the subject stops to reflect for a moment. One might even conceive that, rather than bear false witness, the subject will envisage accepting his own death in the name of the so- called categorical imperative. In effect, if an assault on the goods, the life, or the honor of someone else were to become a universal rule, that would throw the whole of man's universe into a state of disorder and evil.
Can't we stop here and offer our critique?
The striking significance of the first example resides in the fact that the night spent with the lady is paradoxically presented to us as a pleasure that is weighed against a punishment to be undergone; it is an opposition which homogenizes them. There is in terms of pleasure a plus and a minus. I will not quote the worst examples - in his Essay on Negative Greatness, Kant discusses the feelings of the Spartan mother who learns of the death of her son on the field of honor. And the little mathematical calculation Kant makes concerning the pleasure the family derives from the glory, from which one has to deduct the pain felt at the boy's loss, is quite touching. But it is important to note that one only has to make a conceptual shift and move the night spent with the lady from the catogory of pleasure to that of jouissance, given that jouissance implies precisely the acceptance of death - and there's no need of sublimation - for the example to be ruined.
In other words, it is enough for jouissance to be a form of evil, for the whole thing to change its character completely, and for the meaning of the moral law itself to be completely changed. Anyone can see that if the moral law is, in effect, capable of playing some role here, it is precisely as a support for the jouissance involved; it is so that the sin becomes what Saint Paul calls inordinately sinful. That's what Kant on this occasion simply ignores.
Then there is the other example, whose little errors of logic should not, between ourselves, be overlooked. The circumstances involved are somewhat different. In the first case, pleasure and pain are presentod as a single packet to take or leave, in consideration of which one avoids the risk and gives up jouissance. In the second case, there is pleasure or pain. It's not insignificant that I underline it, for this choice is destined to produce in you a certain effect of a fortiori, as a result of which you may be deceived about the real significance of the question.
What's at issue here? That I attack the rights of another who is my fellow man in that statement of the universal rule, or is it a question of the false witness as such?
And what if I changod the example a little? Let's talk about true witness, about a case of conscience which is raised if I am summoned to inform on my neighbor or my brother for activities which are prejudicial to the security of the state. That question is of a kind that shifts the emphasis placed on the universal rule.
And I who stand here right now and bear witness to the idea that there is no law of the good except in evil and through evil, should I bear such witness?
This Law makes my neighbor's jouissance the point on which, in bearing witness in this case, the meaning of my duty is balanced. Must I go toward my duty of truth insofar as it preserves the authentic place of my jouissance, even if it is empty? Or must I resign myself to this lie, which, by making me substitute forcefully the good for the principle of my jouissance, commands me to blow alternatively hot and cold? Either I refrain from betraying my neighbor so as to spare my fellow man or I shelter behind my fellow man so as to give up my jouissance.
March 20, 1960