The sacrifice of good conscience : religion, ethics and guilt in the work of Wittgenstein, Levinas and Derrida
Emphasising Wittgenstein's naturalism, I argue the common misconception that his later work harbours something 'relativistic'. A closer reading of Wittgenstein reveals instead a unifying picture of human life grounded upon 'primitive' (pre-linguistic) behaviours. Turning to explicitly 'religious' themes I then argue that Wittgenstein's ethicalisation of religion is also naturalistic. Thus 'man' is described as a 'ceremonial animal', and belief in the immortal soul is said to relate to an experience of 'guilt' from which one feels there is no release. More broadly, Wittgenstein's reflections lead to a conception of religiosity beyond the reparative economics of eschatological hope. At this point Levinas's own ethicalisation of religion becomes pertinent. I argue that his work is principally concerned with existential guilt, or the question: 'Do I have a right to be?'. That one exists always at the expense of another is what Levinas's thinking hinges upon, echoing throughout his analyses of language, the 'face', 'vulnerability' and 'home', and similarly orienting his characterisation of religion as 'love without reward'. However, Levinas's work is deeply anti-naturalism in that the ethical relation represents a radical 'break' from the (alleged) egoism of natural instinct. I here contend that this view of the natural is mistaken. Indeed, Levinas's central themes are more easily explicated in broadly Wittgensteinian- naturalistic terms. Thus, while Levinas provides a supplement to the ethical terrain of Wittgenstein's later work, Wittgenstein in turn offers a corrective to Levinas's 'spiritualised' humanism. Having drawn upon Derrida's work throughout my argument, in the final chapter I turn explicitly to his recent remarks on the 'gift' and 'hospitality'. For in his cautious articulation of Levinas's 'gratuitous' ethics, Derrida demonstrates, not only why it is 'impossible', but why this 'impossibility' is constitutive of ethical life and necessary if the 'scandal of good conscience' is to be resisted.