Volume 58, Issue 3, Summer 2014
No Ethics without Resistance
How Lacan Understands Moral Sensibility
This article pushes Lacan into the area of moral philosophy. In the posthumously published Conversations of Goethe with Eckermann and Soret, Goethe expresses his perplexity concerning a short passage in the tragedy of Antigone in which the eponymous character gives to Creon a rather extravagant justification of her deadly gesture. This essay contends that Lacan’s reference to Goethe in his Ethics of Psychoanalysis clarifies what is at stake in his dialogues with Aristotle and Kant. Moral sensibility gravitates towards contingencies that hinder a subject from fully participating in the market of exchangeable goods and the realm of social justice (utilitarianism) or the universal demands of a categorical imperative. In the tragedy of Antigone, a contingent blood tie incarnates a symbolic value that accumulates such enormous power that it isolates Antigone from her social context and even from her desire for self-preservation. Moral sensibility circulates around those areas in which an individual is separated from the universal.