Wu -wei and the question of the *other

Changchi Hao, Fordham University


In the dissertation I have presented a historical, comparative, and systematic study on the issue of the relation between aesthetic subjects and ethical subjects by focusing on the philosophers Lao-zi, Zhuang-zi, Mencius, Tu Wei-ming, Heidegger, Derrida, Foucault, and Levinas. By “aesthetic” I mean “amoral” in the Kierkegaardian sense, and by “ethical” I mean care and compassion for others in the Levinasian (or Mo-zian) sense. The dissertation is correspondingly divided into two parts: “Part (I): Aesthetic Subjects,” and “Part (II): Ethical Subjects.” In Part I, I argue that in Lao-zi and Zhuang-zi there is a tranquil poetic-religious-aesthetic subject, in Heidegger a heroic-existential-aesthetic subject (Dasein) and a poetic-aesthetic subject (the essential thinker), and in Confucianism a metaphysical-moral-aesthetic subject. In Part II, one can see that in Derrida there is an ethical-religious subject, in Foucault, an ethical-political subject, and in Levinas, a pious religious-ethical subject. By investigating, interpreting and comparing three kinds of ethics, metaphysical moral theory, originary ethics, and postmodern ethics, I try to provide an answer to the question asked by contemporary philosophers “Who comes after the subject?” The subject, as I understand it, means the subject of representation, the metaphysical subject. This subject is essentially aesthetic. The end of the (metaphysical) subject is my starting point. The central theme of my present study is that an ethical subject is possible only on the condition that it is first a situated subject. However, this does not mean that a situated subject is necessarily an ethical one. After the death of the subject there are at least two possibilities of being a situated subject, the aesthetic one and the ethical one: for example, the Nietzschean subject in early Derrida and the Levinasian subject in later Derrida respectively. My conclusion is that if the subject in “Who comes after the subject?” is a knowing subject, then in postmodern ethics, the subjectivity of the subject is constituted in its ethical responsibilities.

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Recommended Citation

Hao, Changchi, "Wu -wei and the question of the *other" (2002). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3037218.