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Ethics of Liberation: In the Age of Globalization and Exclusion


Available in English for the first time, this much anticipated translation of Enrique Dussel's Ethics of Liberation marks a milestone in ethical discourse. Dussel is one of the world's foremost philosophers. This treatise, originally published in 1998, is his masterwork and a cornerstone of the philosophy of liberation, which he helped to found and develop.

Throughout his career, Dussel has sought to open a space for articulating new possibilities for humanity out of, and in ...

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Available in English for the first time, this much anticipated translation of Enrique Dussel's Ethics of Liberation marks a milestone in ethical discourse. Dussel is one of the world's foremost philosophers. This treatise, originally published in 1998, is his masterwork and a cornerstone of the philosophy of liberation, which he helped to found and develop.

Throughout his career, Dussel has sought to open a space for articulating new possibilities for humanity out of, and in light of, the suffering, dignity, and creative drive of those who have been excluded from Western modernity and neoliberal rationalism. Grounded in engagement with the oppressed, his thinking has figured prominently in philosophy, political theory, and liberation movements around the world.

In Ethics of Liberation, Dussel provides a comprehensive world history of ethics, demonstrating that our most fundamental moral and ethical traditions did not emerge in ancient Greece and develop through modern European and North American thought. The obscured and ignored origins of modernity lie outside the Western tradition. Ethics of Liberation is a monumental rethinking of the history, origins, and aims of ethics, and the critical orientation of ethical theory.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Enrique Dussel is the towering figure in liberation philosophy. This long-awaited translation confirms his unique position in contemporary philosophy."—Cornel West

"The most significant achievements of Enrique Dussel's Ethics of Liberation are the ways that it shifted the geography of reasoning and taught us that if ethics is universal, it is also geopolitical. Dussel shows clearly that ethics has a politics that demands the political to be ethical and the ethical to be political. He further demonstrates that the geopolitics of ethics can no longer be controlled and regulated by Eurocentrism. Epistemic, political, economic, and ethical arguments and advocacy are being built from within the 'Third World' and they have a global scope. Ethics of Liberation is a book for our time, an essential tool for building nonimperial ethical futures."—Walter D. Mignolo, author of The Darker Side of Western Modernity: Global Futures, Decolonial Options

Marx and Philosophy Review of Books - Alex Sager

“Dussel invites ethicists and social and political philosophers to remove their cultural and intellectual blinders and attempt to understand the world from the perspective of the excluded, the oppressed, and the dispossessed. Few people have thought harder on these themes than Dussel and Ethics of Liberation synthesizes much of this intellectual trajectory, opening future lines of research explored in the two-volume Politics of Liberation (2007, 2009) and in other works. This is an overdue English translation of a major work from one of the most important philosophers of our time.”
Christian Century - Walter Brueggemann

“. . . the most compelling articulation we have of the map of power and powerlessness in which we live our lives. It is sweepingly comprehensive, a tsunami of thought. Dussel, a philosophy professor in Mexico City, ducks none of the major issues and none of the intellectual figures of the West as he develops his thought about liberation.”
Hispanic American Historical Review - Luis Martinez Andrade

"The importance of this work lies, on the one hand, in how it demonstrates the force of philosophical thought that reproduces itself in the periphery of the world-system and, on the other hand, in how it poses theoretical, ethical, and political questions radically important for humanity in this third millennium."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780822352129
  • Publisher: Duke University Press Books
  • Publication date: 2/28/2013
  • Series: Latin America Otherwise Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 752
  • Sales rank: 733,135
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Enrique Dussel teaches philosophy at the Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana, Iztapalapa, and at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México in Mexico City. He is the author of many books, including Beyond Philosophy: Ethics, History, Marxism, and Liberation Theology and The Invention of the Americas: Eclipse of the “Other” and the Myth of Modernity. His books Twenty Theses on Politics and Coloniality at Large: Latin America and the Postcolonial Debate (edited with Mabel Moraña and Carlos A. Jáuregui) are both also published by Duke University Press.

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Read an Excerpt

Ethics of Liberation




Copyright © 2013Duke University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8223-5201-3



The Material Moment of Ethics Practical Truth

[57] This is an ethics of life; that is to say, human life is the content of ethics. For this reason, I want to forewarn the reader, here and at the outset, about the meaning of a material ethics or ethics of content. The project of an ethics of liberation unfolds in in its own way from the exercise of an ethical critique (which I present in chapter 4), where the negated dignity of the life of the victim, oppressed or excluded, is affirmed. Chapter 1, on the material content of ethics, is certainly the most difficult part of my discussion and the one that will raise the most suspicions. I present it not because I want to ground a Darwinist or naturalist (neo-Aristotelian, communitarian, axiological, or any other) material ethics but because it is necessary to clarify on behalf of the victims, of the dominated or excluded, the material aspect of ethics, in order to ground it well and to be able to take the critical step from it (chapters 4–6). I am aware that I could be criticized as "rationalist" or "foundationalist," "vitalist," "irrationalist," or "materialist." However, my position is different from all of those positions.

In this chapter, I attempt to indicate some elements—only some—of a universal principle of all ethics, especially of critical ethics: the principle of the obligation to produce, reproduce, and develop the concrete human life of each ethical subject in community. This principle claims universality. It is actualized through cultures and motivates them from within, as well as the values or the different ways of accomplishing the "good life," happiness, and so on. But none of these instances is ever the universal principle of human life. The principle penetrates them all and moves them to their self-fulfillment. Cultures, for instance, are particular modes of life, modes that are moved by the universal principle of human life of each subject in community from within. Every norm, action, microstructure, institution, or cultural ethical life always and necessarily has as its ultimate content some moment of the production, reproduction, and development of the human life in the concrete. The limit act that would seem not to have life itself as content—suicide—is in no way an exception. The suicide, in the first place, cannot justify ethically his absolute self-negation; nor can he ground on suicide a posterior ethical act or a social order, given that he negates himself as a subject of every posterior action. Furthermore, if, exhausted, hopeless, or suffering, one were to "take one's life," one would be presupposing one's life always, since it is precisely because concrete life has lost meaning that this person seeks to extinguish it—unlivable life grounds the possibility of negating life: suicide. I will return in a future work to this grounding, against the cynic who claims to justify death, thus committing a performative contradiction. For now, I want to "situate" the structural place of the question. But grounding "against cynics," when these claim to ethically justify death, it is necessary to show, from the absolute dignity of human life, the injustice or perversity that determines the negated existence of victims. My ultimate intention is to justify the struggle of victims, of the oppressed, for their liberation: reason is only "the cunning of life" of the human subject—and not the inverse—and, as such, we use it and defend it before the necrophiliacs (the lovers of the death of victims, the oppressed, the impoverished, of women, nonwhite races, peoples of the South, Jews, the old, street children, the future generations, and so on). For this reason, I recommend, in order to understand the importance and sense of this material, or its ethical content, that one first read chapter 4, which is the initial critical theme of this ethics of liberation. In fact, in chapter 1 the possibility of negating what is negated is grounded affirmatively as the origin of the material critical process of ethics, which will be described in part II, on ethical critique. After reading chapter 4, the importance of the positive material ethics that we now describe will be understood better.

[58] It is a matter of following a long path, but from its correct "beginning" (the Anfang of Hegel or Marx), in this case, through its content. I will present the material moment of ethics, which, contrary to Kant, has a universality that I will show in its moment. Kant writes: "All practical principles that presuppose an object (matter) of the faculty of desire as the determining ground of the will are, without exception, empirical and can furnish no practical laws." Practical laws are universal, and it would seem that the "appetitive faculty" is necessarily particular, egoistical. In another, earlier text Kant expresses it even more clearly: "To preserve one's life is a duty, and besides everyone has an immediate inclination to do so. But on this account the often anxious care that most people take of it still has no inner worth and their maxim has no moral content." It is a matter, precisely, of the question of the criterion and the material principle of ethics, as much because of its content (the conservation of human life) as because of the inclination, the drive, or affectivity that tends toward their conservation. I will show that the so-called inclination (Neigung), "appetitive faculty," or "desire" can also have universality. But, in addition, as we will see, the human affective-evaluative system acts while fulfilling the indicated material principle of ethics, which is both necessary and universal. We will see in due course that the mere "material" dimension (spelled with "a" in German) is not sufficient for the fulfillment of the "goodness claim" of the maxim, act, institution, or system of ethical life. Other criteria or ethical-moral principles will be necessary for their fulfillment, such as the areas of consensuality of moral validity or the feasibility of mediations, in order to effectively reach "goodness." It is a matter of the articulation of numerous criteria and principles of ethics, and of the construction of many categories that are frequently defined unilaterally.

Moreover, we will have to pass beyond the reductionistic dualism (of Descartes, Kant, or the "Enlightenment") that situated in a hypothetical "soul" what ethics is needed in order to present its theme and that, because of its dualistic "metaphysical anthropology," deformed from the outset all possible posterior analysis. But, in addition, having fixed our attention on "consciencism," we have lost the entire level of the self-organizing process of life, including even the processes of self-regulated social life, which are not discovered by conscience since it is a matter of structures that are partly nonintentional.

§1.1. The Human Cerebral Cognitive and Affective-Appetitive System

[59] Ethics should give importance to those self-organized or self-regulated processes of life, since the modern, exaggerated, and unilateral importance of "consciencism" results in the loss of the organic corporeality of ethical existence. Consciousness does not need to always intervene, but it is determinative in "critical" intervention, and corrects nonintentional negative or perverse effects. For this reason, I will make a quick propadeutic detour into a topic of extreme currency, which, paradoxically, has only recently begun to awaken the attention that it deserves among philosophers. It concerns the empirical studies of the biology of the brain that will allow us, without falling into reductionism or into ethical naturalism or Darwinism, to recuperate the dimension of the corporeality with organic processes that a

Excerpted from Ethics of Liberation by ENRIQUE DUSSEL. Copyright © 2013 by Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission of DUKE UNIVERSITY PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents


ABOUT THE SERIES....................     xi     

EDITOR'S FOREWORD TO THE ENGLISH EDITION....................     xiii     

PREFACE....................     xv     

INTRODUCTION: World History of Ethical Systems....................     1     

PART I: Foundation of Ethics....................     53     

1. THE MATERIAL MOMENT OF ETHICS: Practical Truth....................     55     

2. FORMAL MORALITY: Intersubjective Validity....................     108     

3. ETHICAL FEASIBILITY AND THE "GOODNESS CLAIM"....................     158     

PART II: Critical Ethics, Antihegemonic Validity, and the Praxis of Liberation....................     205     

4. THE ETHICAL CRITICISM OF THE PREVAILING SYSTEM: From the Perspective of the Negativity of the Victims.........     215     


6. THE LIBERATION PRINCIPLE....................     355     

APPENDIX 1. Some Theses in Order of Appearance in the Text....................     433     

APPENDIX 2. Sais: Capital of Egypt....................     447     

NOTES....................     453     

BIBLIOGRAPHY....................     655     

INDEX....................     689     

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