The Narratology of Lay Ethics

Abstract

The five narratives identified by the DEEPEN-project are interpreted in terms of the ancient story of desire, evil, and the sacred, and the modern narratives of alienation and exploitation. The first three narratives of lay ethics do not take stock of what has radically changed in the modern world under the triple and joint evolution of science, religion, and philosophy. The modern narratives, in turn, are in serious need of a post-modern deconstruction. Both critiques express the limits of humanism. They do not imply, however, that these narratives should not be taken seriously. In particular, the enduring presence of three ancient narratives in laypeople’s symbolic thought is highly significant in terms of the role that the logic of the sacred keeps playing in the workings of modern societies. Lay people’s implicit understanding of how modern technology tends towards catastrophe and apocalypse provides the strongest argument for taking these narratives seriously.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    This is a recurrent reversal. Famously, pharmakon means both remedy and poison, don (gift in French) and damage are related as are, etymologically, host, hostile, hospitable.

  2. 2.

    Hesiod, Theogony and Works and Days.

  3. 3.

    Illich showed this in his highly influential books with telling titles like Tools for Conviviality, Deschooling Society, Energy and Equity, Medical Nemesis, etc.

  4. 4.

    This refers to those laypeople, at any rate, that were encountered by DEEPEN researchers.

  5. 5.

    Initially, Ball’s editorial was titled: “What is life? A silly question.”

  6. 6.

    Transcript of a radio conversation on National Public Radio (NPR), broadcast by station KQED San Francisco on January 30, 2008.

  7. 7.

    This is cause for concern. It is not just Alexis de Tocqueville who assures us that it is not difference but undifferentiation that is a major source of human violence and, indeed, the jar from which all disruptive passions like envy, jealousy, resentment, or hatred escape.

  8. 8.

    Phil Macnaghten, private communication, August 2009.

  9. 9.

    In Latin languages like French, the final book in the New Testament, attributed to a John of Samos, is called the “Book of the Apocalypse”, which many people take to mean the destruction of the world provoked by God’s wrath. The English Bible was wise enough to prevent this radical misinterpretation by translating the word “apocalypse” into English. The book in question is thus called the “Book of Revelation.”

  10. 10.

    As we have seen, similar considerations apply to the issue of social justice and the narrative “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.”

  11. 11.

    This question arises from René Girard’s religious anthropology which strongly informs this discussion [2427].

  12. 12.

    I have shown elsewhere that the economy, and money in particular, can be analyzed in this light, alongside technology [21].

  13. 13.

    This was vividly demonstrated by the two complementary movies Fail Safe [43] and Dr. Strangelove [37].

  14. 14.

    In the context of “secondary sacralization” one should say that fate is inscribed in the future by being projected into it—with the future conceived in terms of projected rather than merely occurring time.

  15. 15.

    Accordingly, I set out to rehabilitate the figure of the “prophet of doom” and his role in the polis by advocating “enlightened doomsaying” [18].

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Acknowledgement

I am deeply grateful to Alfred Nordmann who accepted to shorten significantly a previous version of my text for the sake of this publication, and who managed to do so while preserving the full meaning of my analysis.

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Correspondence to Jean-Pierre Dupuy.

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Dupuy, JP. The Narratology of Lay Ethics. Nanoethics 4, 153–170 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11569-010-0097-4

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Keywords

  • Lay ethics
  • Narrative
  • Nanotechnology
  • Catastrophism
  • Violence and the Sacred