JAC: A Journal of Composition Theory, Volume 24, Number 2, 2004 Page: 334
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face, which is a provocation and a calling forth beyond anything that we
have in common or share in understanding, is the very emergence of
ethics. The implication for writingthen is to heed and transmit this wholly
other imperative. To appreciate the implication of this alien imperative,
we will need to pause and consider the "conventionalist ethics," with
its impulse to enclose us in our language games, which implicitly is
being challenged here.
The Ethical Irony of Contingency and Solidarity
Ethics is commonly thought to be grounded in the discourses, institutions,
and norms that we identify as "ours" and that in turn reciprocally identify
us. In this view the face of an infinite ethical imperative (that is, before
and beyond anything that we have in common) would make no sense, as
ethics stands-in the words of Richard Rorty-"'as the voice of ourselves
as members of a community, speakers of a common language" (59).
Obligations then are understood through our shared participation in the
contextual contingency of our language games. Thus, ethics becomes a
contingent historical matter of our particular tradition; in this scheme, an
ethical imperative does not issue from a noumenal asymmetrical point,
nor from any "ahistorical conditions of possibility," but from its congru-
ence with "the general principles on which we have been reared" (196).
In making these claims, Rorty cites Wilfrid Sellars' phrasing of an ethical
obligation as (symmetrical) "we-intentions": "It is a conceptual fact that
people constitute a community, a we, by virtue of thinking of each other
as one of us, and by willing the common good not under the species of
benevolence-but by willing it as one of us..." (190 n.1). Hence, to
breach the protocols of our language games-to breach the obligation to
our society's terms of identification-would be deemed unethical, the
"sort of thing we don't do." Rorty writes,
An immoral action is, on this account, the sort of thing which, if done at
all, is done only by animals, or by people of other families, tribes, cultures,
or historical epochs. If done by one of us, or if done repeatedly by one of
us, that person ceases to be one of us. She becomes an outcast, someone
who doesn't speak our language, even though she may once have appeared
to do so. (59-60)
Because nothing (but the senseless abject) stands outside of the present
contextual contingency of our language games, nothing but the "we"-
an immanent community of "interlocutors who are on the same side, who
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Association of Teachers of Advanced Composition (U.S.). JAC: A Journal of Composition Theory, Volume 24, Number 2, 2004, periodical, 2004; (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc28644/m1/80/: accessed May 22, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; .