The analysis of ethics as a philosophical problem of memory

The relationship between "ethics of memory", care and respect. Analysis of the categories of ethics and morality, the influence of religion. Factors that affect the success of forgiveness: the causes of resistance, the desire to overcome insults.

16.11.2017
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The analysis of ethics as a philosophical problem of memory

Avishai Margalit is one of the famous and modern thinkers and commentators of our time, considering the moral question of Western society. He was born in 1939 in Afula, British Mandate for Palestine, (today Israel) Avishai Margalit is Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and currently a visiting professor of law and philosophy at Stanford (January 2016). He is the author Idolatry (1992), The Decent Society (1996), Views in Review: Politics and Culture in the State of the Jews (1998), The Ethic of Memory (2002), Occidentalism: The West in the Eyes of Its Enemies, On Compromise and Rotten Compromises (2009). Preface to the book The Ethics of Memory was a little story published in a Jerusalem local newspaper. It was about an officer who did not remember the name of a soldier who was killed under his command. The officer was reproached for failing to remember the name. From early childhood, Avishai Margalit witnessed an ongoing discussion between his parents about memory. It started at the end of the war. His parents were in British-ruled Palestine, and their worst fears during the war turned out to be true. Their huge families in Europe were destroyed. He does not remember the actual words they used to talk about it, but he does remember that they referred to it with the traditional term destruction (hakhurban) - the way Jews traditionally referred to the destruction of the Temple by the Romans, who then drove them into exile.

His book is not about his parents' discussion. It is not a book about the Holocaust, but about the memory that forgets and forgives.

Presentation main material. This book emerged out of various lecture series: the Horkheimer lectures in Frankfurt, as well as a lecture in Ringberg Castle; the Simon Weil lectures in Melbourne and Sydney and the Bertelsmann lectures at Oxford; Henry Crowe's lecture at Toronto and the Spinoza-Lenz Prize lectures in Amsterdam and Leiden. The topic of this book is the ethics of memory, with a

question mark: Is there an ethics of memory? Avishai Margalit considers this topic distinct from the closely related subjects of the psychology of memory, the politics of memory, and even the theology of memory. He believes that it is an important question to ask and not merely a futile administrative exercise in channeling issues to this or to that intellectual department. His question, Is there an ethics of memory? is both about microethics (the ethics of individuals) and about macroethics (the ethics of collectives). The author reaches the conclusion that while there is an ethics of memory, there is very little morality of memory. The drift of this idea-perhaps more appropriately expressed with a question mark than with an exclamation point-obviously hinges on the distinction between ethics and morality. In his account, this in turn is based on a distinction between two types of human relations: thick ones and thin ones.

First of all, let us try to understand: What are thick relations?

Thick relations are grounded in attributes such as parent, friend, lover, fellow-countryman. Thick relations are anchored in a shared past or moored in shared memory. Thin relations, on the other hand, are backed by the attribute of being human. Thin relations rely also on some aspects of being human, such as being a woman or being sick. Thick relations are in general our relations to the near and dear. Thin relations are in general our relations to the stranger and the remote. Ethics, in the way he uses the term, tells us how we should regulate our thick relations; morality tells us how we should regulate our thin relations. Morality is long on geography and short on memory. Ethics is typically short on geography and long on memory. Memory is the cement that holds thick relations together, and communities of memory are the obvious habitat for thick relations and thus for ethics. By playing such a crucial role in cementing thick relations, memory becomes an obvious concern of ethics, which is the enterprise that tells us how we should conduct our thick relations.

Avishai Margalit asked: Who should carry the moral memory on behalf of humanity as a whole?. He answered: Certainly religions can make a bid on the moral memory of humanity as a whole. Or at least the historical religions can. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all subscribe to the idea of an autonomous history of humanity that is not merely a part of the cosmic run of events. Man was created for the glory of God, and human history is the goal of creation. It is unfolding under the special guidance of God. There are secular versions of this picture, to be sure.

Hegel's idea of world history with historical laws as a substitute for divine providence is a case in point. But talk about world history does not create a world community of memory. The historical religions claim that they have the potential for creating such a community. The historical religions aspire to shape humanity as an ethical community Religion is of relevance here in part because the whole enterprise of an ethics of memory, as well as the politics of memory, is under a cloud of accusation that it is merely a disguised form of religion. The suspicion is that the key notions of an ethics of memory, such as forgiving and forgetting, gets their sense and justification only in the religious context of a forgiving God. And the same suspicion holds with regard to the politics of memory, which is viewed as no more than political theology. The most superficial controversy over erecting a public memorial monument adds to this suspicion.

Conversely, Avishai Margalit believes, that his distinction between ethics and morality helps to block the expansionist tendency of moralism in the right way. States of mind, attitudes, dispositions, and characters are legitimate concerns in forming our thick relations. Our evaluations of our thick relations are not confined, and rightly so, only to actions, for the simple reason that various psychological states and dispositions that thicken our relations are not just actions. Thin relations are based far more on actions than on attitudes, even though attitudes, such as respect and humiliation, should concern thin relations a great deal too. Our legitimate fear of moralism is met, he believes, by a maneuver of divide and conquer. Divide the subject into ethics and morality and conquer the expansionist tendency of moralism by shifting it to ethics. Preface to the book The Ethics of Memory was a little story published in a Jerusalem local newspaper. It was about an officer who did not remember the name of a soldier who was killed under his command.

The officer was reproached for failing to remember the name. The first thing that needs to be said is relation between memory and caring. It is, he maintains, an internal relation - a relation that could not fail to obtain between these two concepts since memory is partly constitutive of the notion of care. If we care for someone or for something, and then I forget that person or that thing, this means that I have stopped caring for him or it. To say that the officer still cares for the young soldier but does not remember him is incoherent. The case of the officer hinges on the index of time. The fact that the officer does not remember him now (at the time, say, of the interview reported in the newspaper) does not necessarily mean that he did not care about him then (at the time the soldier was killed). But is not the fact that the officer does not remember now at least a strong indication that he did not care then? Let us start by considering the facts. Avishai Margalit said: In answering this question let me shift from the army colonel to the enigmatic character of Don Juan. Tirso de Molina, who created Don Juan's literary image in the seventeenth century, viewed him as a religious heretic who did not care at all about the women he seduced and abandoned but used them to express his defiance of the Church. The Don Juan of Ernest Theodor Wilhelm Amadeus Hoffman, on the other hand, is a romantic who cares deeply for the ideal woman but not for the flesh and blood women whom he encounters. In Peter Brook's interpretation of Mozart/Da Ponte's Don Giovanni, he is a man who cares a great deal for each and every woman on his mille e tre list of seduction (and that, mind you, is only the number for Spain). However, he cares for them at the time of the seduction only; later, he forgets them completely. Now, is this

Don Giovanni psychologically convincing? Infatuation, unlike love, does not require a biographical continuity and therefore does not need to involve memory, whereas love, as a form of caring, does involve memory. Thus, by not remembering, Don Giovanni strongly indicates that infatuation, not love, was the basis for his relationships with women. Brook's interpretation, exciting as it is, is not psychologically convincing to me. One's remembering a person now is a strong indication that one cared at the time, at the very least, if not still.

And conversely, the officer's not remembering the name of the soldier now is a strong indication that he did not care much for him at the time. If the relation between memory and caring is internal, it is a complicated notion of internal relation that is involved here. A typical internal relation is constitutive (essential, defining) for both terms in the relation. The relation of being lighter than, which holds between white and black, is constitutive to both white and black: if the relation does not hold, white would not be white and black would not be black. In the case of memory and caring, on the other hand, caring is not constitutive to memory.

Though caring is a selfless attitude as far as our personal ego is concerned, it is not immune to collective egoism, in the form, for example, of tribalism or ethnocentrism. This can turn caring from a noble attitude into a nasty one. We are all familiar with people who care greatly about their people and who are ready to make real sacrifices for them but who have utter disregard for those outside the tribe. Unselfish idealism is sometimes responsible for unspeakable cruelty to outsiders. Caring may also be problematic for the pluralist liberal, because of the inherent tension between caring and individual autonomy. In his view, the test of the liberal is in his acceptance of another's right to make his or her own big mistakes. It is easy to adopt a tolerant attitude toward mistakes made by people to whom we are basically indifferent. But it is difficult with regard to people we care about, perhaps most of all with regard to our children. It is painful, sometimes unbearable, to watch them waste a distinct talent they have, behave irresponsibly regarding their health, or choose an obviously wrong spouse. Caring may easily play out at the expense of respect for the other person's autonomy. It may turn into emotional blackmail, or even active intervention, so as to prevent the person we care about so deeply from making what to us is so obviously a big mistake.

Avishai Margalit mentions the price of caring so as to avoid the sermonizing tone we sometimes assume when talking about its virtues: cheap talk is talk without a price tag attached. Another important feature of caring is protectiveness. Caring is an attitude that suggests constant worry and apprehension about dangers and failures (think again about caring for one's children). Caring also carries duties and evaluations. He believes, for example, that betraying a friend or lover is a sin against caring. We cannot assume that all people who are close to each other also care about each other. We all know the type who is terribly nice to strangers but horrible to his wife and children. Our moral obligation should be extended to all: to the near and dear as well as to the far and away. But caring is the attitude at the heart of our thick relations. Such relations call for more than mere moral rights and wrongs. Avishai Margalit presumes the question, Who is my neighbor? hinges on the meanings of the term neighbor, which, like the terms caring, person, and individual, are, in the language of Gilbert Ryle, systematically ambiguous. This ambiguity arises because these terms occupy the twin domains of ethics and morality-that is, thick relations and thin ones.

Thus, in the context of morality, neighbor means a mere fellow human being. But in the context of ethics, a neighbor is someone with whom we have a history of a meaningful, positive, personal relationship, or a history that can be mediated through some imagined community, such as the community of his fellow Jews, most of whom he never encountered in my life. The scope of ethics is determined by our thick relations, which determine who our metaphorical neighbor is. But then the hard question arises, What thick relations? The actual ones we happen to have, or the one we are assumed to have or ought to have, which might, in their most extensive scope, encompass all of humankind? Thus morality turns into ethics.

In his opinion, caring, too, in the context of morality, can be a thin, ad hoc notion, which may nevertheless be very demanding on the occasion that it is exercised, as the story of the Good Samaritan attests. Still, having paid the inn-keeper to look after the wounded man, the Good Samaritan is free to leave the inn, thereby terminating his accidental relationship with the injured Jew. And so it is with the term person. In the context of morality, it means a bare human being, the subject of morality. But in ethical theory, a person (or an individual) is an achievement word, not an assumption word as it is in moral theory. In an ethical context, a person is someone with personality, and the personality is constituted by memory. Memory, in my account, is not the criterion for personal identity, where the notion of person is taken as a thin relation. Rather, memory is crucial for personality identity.

Personality identity in its anthropological sense is what is required for an ethical theory, and personal identity, in its metaphysical sense, is what is required for moral theory. Do the notions of memory and remembrance, as he uses them, suffer from the same systematic ambiguity as that between morality and ethics? Is there some minimal obligation to remember in the context of morality, too, and not just in the context of ethics? After all, the wounded man would seem to be under a moral obligation of gratitude to the Good Samaritan, the stranger who saved his life. And how can he honor the Samaritan who saved his life if not, at a minimum, by remembering the benevolence and care that was extended to him? In the first place, are there episodes that we ought to remember? Are there episodes that we ought to forget? Let us understand the we as the collective or communal we. The two questions thus amount to the question of the ethics of collective memory. The concept of memory, like the concepts of will and belief, applies primarily to individuals. By this he means that an interpretive priority is given to the individual sense of the concept over its use with regard to collectives. We can explain to a child the meaning of The nation remembers its day of liberation by an appeal to his understanding of what it is for his friend to remember.

At this point let me introduce a distinction between shared memory and common memory. It is, he believes, a distinction with merit. The people booing Nicolae Ceausescu in the square in Bucharest in December 1989 took part in an event that started an uprising that eventually led to Ceausescu's downfall. Suppose that, contrary to fact, with the help of his brutal secret police (the notorious Securitate), Ceausescu had recuperated and regained power. Given the nature of the terror reigning in Romania at the time, who would have dared mention out loud - or, for that matter, even in a whisper-the event in the square? Everyone in Romania who took part in that episode, or who watched it on television, would remember such a memorable scene. In such a case the memory of the booing in the square would have become a common memory but by no means a shared one.

A common memory, then, is an aggregate notion. It aggregates the memories of all those people who remember a certain episode which each of them experienced individually. If the rate of those who remember the episode in a given society is above a certain threshold (say, most of them, an overwhelming majority of them, more than 70 percent, or whatever), then we call the memory of the episode a common memory-all of course relative to the society at hand. A shared memory, on the other hand, is not a simple aggregate of individual memories. It requires communication. A shared memory integrates and calibrates the different perspectives of those who remember the episode - for example, the memory of the people who were in the square, each experiencing only a fragment of what happened from their unique angle on events-into one version. Other people in the community who were not there at the time may then be plugged into the experience of those who were in the square, through channels of description rather than by direct experience. Shared memory is built on a division of mnemonic labor. We are usually unaware of the channels by which we share memories with others; just as we are often unaware of the ways we came to learn certain historical facts. But there are dramatic cases when we actually are aware of such channels. Psychologists are rightly puzzled by these flashbulb memories.

Most New Yorkers, for example, remember very vividly where they were when they heard about the attack on the World Trade Center and how they heard about it. There is, of course, nothing puzzling in the fact that they all remember the event of the attack itself, which was surely a momentous one in their lives. What is puzzling is that so many people remember trivial items of information that accompanied the attack, such as who told them about it, what precisely they were doing when they were told, and so on. The question is why such details, which usually drop out of memory, are so vividly recalled.

A common explanation is that we remember these details better because, when the event is dramatic, we tend to rehearse the story more often. But thinker would like to add an explanation, or rather a speculation, of my own, one that ties the phenomenon of the flashbulb memory with shared memory. With regard to dramatic events, we are aware of the channels through which we were plugged into the shared memory. The significance of the event for us depends on our being personally connected with what happened, and hence we share not only the memory of what happened but also our participation in it, as it were. It is not surprising that blacks in the United States have much better flashbulb memories than whites of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., while whites have better flashbulb memories

of John Kennedy's assassination.

Even if it turns out that flashbulb memories are not on the whole reliable, that fact would not undermine the point that we find it important to report (even falsely) the channels by which we become related to a shared event when that event is of immense importance to us. Shared memory can be expressed in a legacy - that is, a memory of abstract things such as attitudes and principles - or in a heritage, which consists of concrete objects such as buildings and monuments. Shared memory may be an expression of nostalgia.

Nostalgia is an important element of communal memory. Nostalgia distorts the past by idealizing it. People, events, and objects from the past are presented as endowed with pure innocence. An attack on the nostalgic past is like an attack on the paradigmatic kitsch objects of crying children, smiling beggars, gloomy clowns, sleeping babies, and sad, brown-eyed dogs. Nostalgia can be a vehicle of great tenderness toward the past, but it can also be accompanied by a menacing feeling, when the shared memory of the past is kitsch. His criticism is strictly confined to sentimentality. By no means is it directed toward sentiments about the past or sentiments in the past. Indeed, collective memory has a great deal to do with retaining the sensibility of the past and not just its sense. By sensibility Avishai Margalit means here the systematic way by which emotions were and are tied to the events remembered.

To draw the conclusion, one can say that: What is forgiveness?. The antithesis is that forgiveness is not a policy or decision but a change in the mental state of the one who was wronged (a change of heart). Forgetting the injury is part of what is required for this change of heart and for successful forgiveness. Since forgetting is not voluntary, neither is forgiveness. So forgiveness cannot be a voluntary mental act but is at best a mental change. Forgiveness of this sort is not a policy but rather a case of overcoming resentment and vengefulness, of mastering anger and humiliation. The word forgiveness denotes both a process and an achievement, just as the word work denotes both the process of working and the work that is accomplished. The forgiver makes a conscious decision at least in paradigmatic cases to enter a process whose end-result is forgetting the injury and restoring his relationship with the offender as though the injury had never occurred. The decision to forgive is a decision to act in disregard of the injury. But as long as the offended one retains any scars from the injury, the forgiveness is not complete. Only the decision to begin this process is voluntary; the end-result of complete forgiveness is not voluntary any more than forgetting is, and so it cannot be guaranteed. There are elements of forgetting that can be voluntary, such as the decision not to brood over the injury, but forgetting itself is involuntary. Total forgiveness entails forgetting - that is, blotting out rather than covering up. The initial decision to forget, however, does require remembering; otherwise the forgiveness has no meaning. Natural forgetting of an injury is not forgiveness and has no moral value.

Thinker maintains that, what is needed for successful forgiveness is not forgetting the wrong done but rather overcoming the resentment that accompanies it.

It is like forgetting an emotion in the sense of not reliving it when memory of the event comes to mind. The right model for forgiving, both psychologically and ethically, is the covering-up model, not the blotting-out model. What ought to be blotted out is the memory of the emotion in the sense of reliving it, not in the sense of remembering it. But the end-result of such a course is not in our hands. Only its beginning is up to us. It depends on two elements. The first is adopting, as a policy of behavior, an exclusionary reason to counter reasons for action that are based on the injury done to us. The second element is a second-order desire to overcome our first - order resentment, vengefulness, and insult stemming from that injury.

References

ethics respect forgiveness memory

l. Avishai Margalit. The ethics of memory // Avishai Margalit. Harvard university press Cambridge, Massachusetts London, England. - 226p.

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