In the framework of ongoing cooperation between Bar-Ilan University and Catholic Theological University of Utrecht, there have taken place a number of conferences examining issues of vital importance to both Judaism and Christianity and focusing upon the overall theme of holiness. The results of these conferences have been published in the joint series of both Universities entitled Jewish and Christian Perspectives (www.biu.ac.il/js/rennert/jcp). This conference will continue to examine this theme of holiness by studying the significance of holy persons and religious role models in Judaism and Christianity. The editorial board mourns the recent passing of Prof. Dafna Yizraeli, member of the JCP advisory board.
In spite of the common Biblical heritage ofJudaism and Christianity, both religions have often cherisihed widely divergent views on the significance of exemplary personalities in religious experience. The major difference between Christianity and Judaism is sometimes described as the Christian need for mediation as opposed to a more direct approach to God in Judaism. Historical research, however, proves this view to be rather simplistic. Already in the Biblical period, Moses' role is unique and inimitable, not even by his successor Joshua.
Almost from its inception, Christianity has stressed the importance of its cult of the saints, whereas in Judaism somewhat of a reverse process seems to have taken place. In the course of time, the Jewish veneration of prophets and their tombs seems to have waned whereas in Christianity the ever growing distribution of relics, Christian and christianized, almost parallels the development of that religion itself. The "divinization" of figures from the Biblical period such as Enoch and Melchisedech undoubtedly began in Judaism, but was soon adopted by nascent Christianity, resulting in a waning interest in these figures in Judaism. A similar phenomenon has taken place regarding the veneration of angels and other intermediaries. Well into the Talmudic period, there was tension between rabbinic leadership and charismatic wonderworkers. Whereas the former stressed the paramount importance of communal life and of study of Torah, the latter behaved in a more individualistic manner. On the other hand, the study of Torah itself created something of an elite. In addition, Torah study may have been of paramount importance, but this did not prevent the development of other types of religiosity. The appearance of the Hassidic movement in the 18th century, and further developments in the history of that movement, proved that these tensions were no temporary phenomenon, but had remained deeply ingrained within Judaism.
Struggles between institutionalized religion and charismatic religiosity are also found in Christianity. The Desert Fathers, although formally obedient to the Church authorities, sought their real spiritual guidance elsewhere and adopted a lifestyle, religious and material, including even their own manner of dress, which was hardly compatible with the ordinary Christian community. In spite of this, these ascetics followed in the footsteps of Biblical examples, as they interpreted them.
As persecution of Christians came to end, martyrdom, as a prominent religious motif was replaced by asceticism. This marginalized the role of the Jewish Maccabees who had been venerated as Christian martyrs in spite of their Jewish identity. Still, the memory of such martyrs did not disappear, and the profusion of relics throughout Europe resulted in an immense dispersion of holiness among social strata. What were the reasons for this Christian profusion of holiness and when did such an experience of holiness border upon superstition and magic? In the iconoclasm of the Eastern churches certain devotional practices were forbidden. However, this was no more than a prelude to the Reformation's abhorrence of the veneration of saints. Reformation theology, which exclusively emphasized Christ, did not allow for the intercession of other holy persons. However, the pre-Reformation writer Gabriel Biel evinces some of the features commonly associated with the Reformation, ignoring saints and viewing royal persons as examples for Christian behavior.
While the Jewish Maccabees might have been venerated as martyrs in Christian tradition, the prophet Elijah receives a wholly Christian identity in the Middle Ages providing an example of contemplative personality. No less curious is the role of the apostle Peter in Jewish texts. Apparently, he is portrayed as outwardly living the life of a Christian pope, but secretly observing Jewish regulations.
Judaism, in reaction to Christianity, tended to minimize the importance of intermediaries between God and man. In the liturgical context, an intermediary between the believer and God was no longer deemed necessary as the non-priestly character of rabbinic Judaism shows. In light of that, the important role of the zaddik and of the rebbe in Hassidism from the 18th century onward to the present day may come somewhat as a surprise. Other varieties of Judaism prefer to emphasize the responsibility of each individual Jew and look with suspicion upon charismatic claims and miraculous manifestations.
In modern secular society, the veneration of persons of various types has sometimes drifted away from a religious context, but has not entirely disappeared. Postmodernism seems to be able to combine very different role models in one and the same religious universe, including veneration of relics and pilgrimage to 'holy sites'. Sometimes, surprisingly, former religious elements re-appear in a wholly new context, as is proven by a comparison between the Rabbinic attitude towards the allegedly seductive quality of the female voice and the therapeutic view of the female voice according to the school of Lacan. A comparison between the views of the papal authority, including on 'infallibility', with rabbinic authority embodied in the chair of Moses, yields some surprising results as well.
Modern practice both within Judaism and Christianity to search for female religious role models to enhance women's liberation deserves a fresh examination: is a female saint an incentive or a stumbling block for emancipation? In a philosophical reflection preceding all these contributions, questions of imitation, emulation and mimesis of exemplary figures are confronted with issues of freedom, obedience, autonomy and heteronomy. Perhaps the only saint worth following is the one who does not know he is one.
The contributions to this volume put into bold relief salient features of Jewish and/or Christian attitudes toward holy persons and religious role models, either through the study of one of the respective traditions or through their comparison. As such, these studies contribute to the clarification of the differences and similarities between Jewish and Christian attitudes and to a deeper appreciation of the multiform manifestations of each tradition. Through interdisciplinary exchange that combines historical research with contemporary thought and philosophical and theological reflection, we aim to contribute to a deeper understanding of both Judaism and Christianity in past and present and perhaps to help forge a way for the future. Finally we would like to thank Henk Scholder for his painstaking efforts in preparing the indices.
Joshua Schwartz Bar-Ilan University, Israel
Catholic University of Utrecht, The Netherlands
HERMENEUTICS OF IMITATION: A PHILOSOPHICAL APPROACH TO SAINTHOOD AND EXEMPLARINESS
Joachim Duyndam (University for Humanist Studies, Utrecht, The Netherlands)
The beautiful film The Bridges of Madison County from 1995, starring Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood,1 recounts the love story of Francesca Johnson (45), a farmer's wife from Iowa, and Robert Kincaid (52), a freelance photographer working for National Geographic. As a young American's bride Francesca came from Italy to Iowa after World War II, where at the time of the story she led a plain and steady family life, happy but dull, with occasionally the flickering memories of her young girl's dreams. When in the summer of 1965 Kincaid drove past Francesca's farm asking directions to Roseman's Bridge in Madison County, her husband and her two growing children had gone out for a few days to an annual fair in Illinois. From the moment Francesca and Robert met, a true and passionate love has set these two lonely people on fire, a love that lasted only for the four days of her family's absence but that turned out to have a huge influence over the rest of their lives.
After Francesca's death in 1989, her son and daughter were startled to find in her last will instructions that her body was to be cremated— instead of being buried in the family tomb, next to her husband who had died several years before—and that her ashes were to be scattered at Roseman's Bridge. Looking for an answer, they started browsing through their mother's belongings. Through her diary, some photographs and a valedictory letter they found out about Francesca's love affair, of which they've had not even the slightest knowing. "If not for your father and the two of you," Francesca's letter said, "I would have gone anywhere with him, instantly. He asked me to go, begged me to go. But I wouldn't, and he was too much of a sensitive and caring person to ever interfere in our lives after that."2
1 Directed by Clint Eastwood, after R.J. Waller's novel of the same name (New York 1992, 1997).
2 Waller 1997, 182.
"The paradox is this," the letter continued, "If it hadn't been for Robert Kincaid, I'm not sure I could have stayed on the farm all these years. In four days, he gave me a lifetime, a universe, and made the separate parts of me into a whole. I have never stopped thinking of him, not for a moment. Even when he was not in my conscious mind, I could feel him. But it never took away from anything I felt for the two of you or your father. Thinking only for myself, I'm not sure I made the right decision. But taking the family into account, I'm pretty sure I did."3
Many years later, according to the letter, Francesca received a message from Robert's attorney reporting that he had died and that his ashes had been thrown off Roseman's Bridge in Madison County. "After reading all this," the farewell letter ended, "I hope you can now understand my burial request. It was not the ravings of some mad old lady. I gave my life to my family. I wish to give Robert what is left of me."4
A tragic and impressive story, but on the other hand quite ordinary. An unattainable love is sad, but not exceptional. Neither is the conclusion that life is stronger than dreams. So why start a contribution on imitation, notably in a book that is about holy persons and religious role models, precisely with this story? Clearly, Francesca is nothing at all like a saint. And at least in the film, the narrative of her life ignores any religious feelings or practices of hers. The reason, though, to launch the subject of imitation precisely with this example lies in the inspiring influence the plot of Francesca's life posthumously had upon her two children. Both having bad marriages, one of them seriously considering a divorce, they began to see their respective partners in another light. After reading their mother's diary and valedictory letter, and having realized what happened at the time when they were young, of which events they have been completely unknown, they became determined to make the best of their situations, and to abandon their centripetal attitudes. In doing so, I presume they were imitating their mother. More precisely, they were imitating the exemplar their mother appeared to be.
The term centripetal is to be explained later. It is supposed to be the opposite of 'centrifugal', 'de-centered' or transcendent. In my view,
3 Waller 1997, 182-183.
4 Waller 1997, 183.
Francesca's decision not to follow the love of her life, her abstaining from the opportunity to experience a passionate relationship and a new life with a kindred soul for the sake of her family's well-being, implies some kind of self-sacrifice. I will demonstrate in this contribution a concept of self-sacrifice that is based upon transcendence of centripetal behavior. In my interpretation, it is precisely self-sacrifice understood as transcendence that makes up the inspiring influence we try to grasp. And it is this transcendence that is to be imitated. I provisionally use the terms centripetality and transcendence in a morally neutral way, avoiding more charged wordings such as egocentric and altruistic. For it remains to be seen whether or not the inspiring influence meant here is morally good, just as it is not for sure that what Francesca did is morally good. From a traditional moral perspective, it is. But on the other hand one could argue, for instance from a feminist point of view, that her self-sacrifice was wrong; that by remaining a countrywoman and a housewife, she didn't achieve her full capacities, and that by staying with her husband, she was in fact tolerating him rather than loving him, so that she would come out short not only to herself but also to her husband.
The outline of this contribution is as follows. The leading question is: how can the imitation of inspiring exemplars be understood in a ethical-hermeneutical way? This main question implies at least three sub-questions to be dealt with here: (1) What is imitation, and what is it not—related to its ethical context? (2) How is the hermeneu-tic character of imitation to be understood? (3) What can be so inspiring, especially morally inspiring, that it is to be imitated? This article's aim is to elucidate and to demonstrate that the transcendence displayed by the exemplar's behavior appears to the imitator as a moral value to be applied hermeneutically into his of her own life—this application being the core of the imitation process.
1. What is Imitation, and What is It Not?
Modern ethical reasoning is mainly based upon principles, values, virtues or beneficial goals, though rarely upon authoritative or inspiring exemplars.5 The evident fact that our moral behavior is highly
5 T. Beauchamp, Philosophical Ethics; An Introduction to Moral Philosophy, New York 1991.
influenced by the conduct of others6 finds no full place in modern ethical theory. The reason for this absence seems to be obvious: the imitation of exemplary actions would be incompatible with currently important and widely shared values such as autonomy and authenticity. Although in the history of Western Culture, the imitation of exemplars has been both an important ethical principle and a widely extended moral practice—e.g. the exemplarily embodied virtues in Aristotelian ethics, the imitation of saints and of Christ himself in Christianity—in modern ethics, the role of exemplars seems to have been downgraded to the sole position of only instances, merely illustrating general and abstract moral rules and statements. The humble status of imitation in modern ethics has also been confirmed by moral psychology. In the well-known developmental-psychological theory of Lawrence Kohlberg, which is based on a Kantian view, acting according to an exemplar is considered to be specific to a lower grade of moral development—it is actually supposed to indicate moral immaturity—while acting in accordance with general moral rules would mark the highest degree of moral conduct.7
However, it may be argued that inspiring exemplars form a substantial part of our moral lives. We all probably have had experiences, such as taking heart from a courageous person, or coping with a confusing situation by following the example of a wise friend. Anybody who once had to take a fundamental decision in his or her life, or who has suffered or loved, who had to bear a loss, or who experienced friendship, will know the power of an inspiring exemplar. In all these existential areas a certain dignity and an excellence can be achieved by taking an eminent paradigm as a model; by directing oneself to exemplary courage, to outstanding wisdom, to respectable perseverance, to model friendship, etc.
Yet there are some exceptions in contemporary ethics treating the importance of exemplars to our moral conduct. One of them is Edith Wyschogrod, who discusses in her remarkable study Saints and Postmodernism. Revisioning Moral Philosophy8 the present-day significance of hagiographies to moral action. Although she hardly focuses speci
6 E.g. J. Nadel & G. Butterworth (eds), Imitation in infancy, Cambridge 1999.
7 L. Kohlberg, The Psychology of Moral Development; The Nature and Validity of Moral Stages, San Francisco 1984; cf. C. Gilligan, In a Different Voice; Psychological Theory and Women's Development, Cambridge Ma 1982.
8 E. Wyschogrod, Saints and Postmodernism; Revisioning Moral Philosophy, Chicago 1990.
fically on the imitation of saints, her account of what she calls the 'saintly effect' is considerably valuable to our subject matter. In my view, the meaning of imitation is not confined to saints in the literal and acknowledged sense, although they make up the main paradigm, at least in Christian tradition, but it refers generally to the aforementioned inspiring influence or effect that can emanate from any exemplary person. On the other hand, it should be noticed that not all saints are to be imitated. Some are only prayed to as mediators, such as St. Anthony, because they are believed to be close to God.9 Others, like St. James, are worshiped by pilgrims who seek their proximity to share a bit of their holiness.10 Another category of saints, including ascetics, hermits and recluses, as well as the so-called pil-larists such as Simeon the Stylite, is literally inimitable.11
Against the background of the contemporary ethical context touched upon briefly here, a provisional answer can be given to the question of this section: what is imitation and what is it not? The answer is rather hypothetical and will be elaborated in the next sections.
1. Firstly, imitation should be strictly distinguished from aping, copying, duplicating, mirroring or counterfeiting. In the opening story, the children of Francesca imitating her, did not copy the actions of their mother, as if they would have been entering upon a secret love affair themselves, as she did, and subsequently giving this up for the sake of their respective marriages. That would have been absurd, if not immoral. Imitating Francesca means that her children tried to translate the value of what she did—the values represented in her attitude, her behavior, her choices—into their own lives. Their lives and behavior cannot be and should not be duplicates of their mother's. Imitation as pointed out here is a creative process, including a kind of translation of the valuable from another's life to one's own. To become really one's own value, it cannot be just borrowed or adopted from another's life, but it must be interpreted, transfigured, reconstructed. In my view, this is true for imitation of exemplars in general, including saints. Although traditional worshiping of saints may have implied appeals for their meticulous
9 W. Frijhoff, Heiligen, idolen, iconen, Nijmegen 1998.
10 M.L. Nolan & S. Nolan, Christian Pilgrimage in Modern Europe, Chapel Hill, N.C. 1989.
11 R. Cohn, 'Sainthood', in: M. Eliade (ed.), The Encyclopedia of Religion, New York 1987.
and literary 'imitation' or copying, this would sound implausible or even preposterous to present-day moral subjects considering themselves to be autonomous and authentic persons.12
2. Confirming that the imitation of an exemplar is a creative process implies that imitation is a matter of free action and free choice. This means that the inspiring exemplar does not exercise its work by compulsion, constraint or force, but that it is just appealing, albeit strongly appealing. The moral agent remains free either to comply with the appeal, that is to accept its invitation, or to reject it. It is not the place here to discuss all philosophical implications of this presupposition of free will. What matters here is to distinguish free imitation from the supposedly natural—and therefore 'unfree'—human disposition so familiar to ape or to copy one another. The French-American philosopher René Girard takes this point to the extreme. All human desire is supposed to be based on mimesis, as he calls it. Although people believe and pretend that their desires are authentic and originally theirs, all desire would in fact be mediated by a model. In short, one desires a certain object because another person—the model—desires the same object too, according to Girard.13 Though extremely interesting as such, Girard's theses are less important from an ethical point of view. Girard's concept of 'imitation' is based on a supposed natural human inclination, whereas ours is built upon inspiration, choice and determination.
3. Referring to the previously raised question whether or not the inspiring influence emanating from the episode in Francesca's life onto her children might be rated as morally good, it is clear that the answer to our question on imitation cannot have the character of a plea. I am not simply making a general plea for imitation, neither in ethics nor in life itself. History provides us with a lot of evil exemplars who should better not be imitated, though being strongly inspiring, and perhaps even sanctified by their suspicious adherents. Yet it may be a similar process at work. If the latter is true, imitation appears to be an ambivalent phenomenon. It depends on the character of the values imitated whether imitation is morally good, bad or neutral.
12 Wyschogrod 1990, 31-60.
13 R. Girard, Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World, Stanford CA 1987.
As to the second of our three sub-questions, let us focus now on the hermeneutic character of the imitation process. The concept of hermeneutics refers, generally speaking, to the art of interpreting, as well as to the disciplines teaching such arts. Interpretation includes the detection, reconstruction, explaining, illuminating and appropriation of meaning, usually in texts. Theology and law are the traditional fields of hermeneutic craft. In its classical definition, hermeneutics identified the problem of meaning and interpretation with the exegesis of authoritative scriptural texts and human law. Since the nineteenth century, the field of hermeneutics has been extended to philology and literature, including poetry.14 Recently it has become customary to count life itself, fundamentally supposed to have a textual or narrative structure, as belonging to the expertise of hermeneutics.15 Common to these domains of theology, law, literature and life-as-a-text is that they incorporate authoritative or otherwise appealing texts—texts that are asking, inviting, seducing or even provoking to be read, interpreted and conquered. A hagiography may be such a text.
In relation to such texts, hermeneutics tries to interpret their meaning whereas they are not willing to release it easily or directly. There is a distance—a historical, cultural or hierarchical gap—between the interpreter and the meaning sought for. Interpretation aims to bridge that distance, to get closer to the meaning, to assume it, to appropriate it. In cases of law, hermeneutic interpretation has dealt mostly with matters of application. The gap to be bridged here is the discrepancy between the always generally formulated rules of law on the one hand and the particular cases or situations the law is to be applied to on the other. Application is connecting the general to the particular or to the individual, the theoretical to the practical, the abstract to the concrete. The difficulties accompanying application were already familiar to Aristotle. In his ethics he stressed the importance of the virtue of phronesis (prudence), which is the virtue of practical reasoning.16 Our expression 'jurisprudence' still refers to this ability. Phronesis is the creative capability, acquired by education and
14 W. Dilthey, Hermeneutics and the Study of History, Princeton, NJ 1996.
15 J. Derrida, De la grammatologie, Paris 1967.
16 Aristotle, The Nicomachean Ethics, Cambridge Ma 1982, ch. 6.
learning, to apply general values and ethical virtues to particular situations and actions.17 The German hermeneutic philosopher HansGeorg Gadamer has fashioned a modern version of the hermeneutical method on this Aristotelian practical-ethical knowledge.18 In line with Gadamer it may be defended that the hermeneutical notion of application far exceeds the field of law, and that it is generally suitable to the interpretation of meaning as being discussed here.
Regarding the imitation of inspiring exemplars, and referring to the aforementioned translation of the exemplar's values, one may also speak of the application of the values represented by the exemplar to one's own life and actions. This application is a creative process. For the values at issue are mostly not handed down to us on a silver platter, clearly and unambiguously. Hagiographies, for instance, are usually full of mysteries, paradoxes, controversies, tall stories and miracles. Moreover, it is by these seeming impossibilities that hagiographies captivate the reader. They intrigue us and they trigger our curiosity and our creativity because they suggest something important and valuable.
The captivating character of the still alien meaning that is sought for by the hermeneutic approach is indicative of some kind of recognition by the imitator. This recognition incorporates the experience that the appeal is concerning me. The exemplar's inspiring appeal makes me, the imitator, an associate or an accomplice, not just a spectator. This implies that our quest for the alien meaning usually happens within some acquaintance or kinship with it. According to the French hermeneutic philosopher Paul Ricoeur, this kinship or appartenance (belonging to) is an essential trait of hermeneutics.19 In order to prove this, Ricoeur establishes hermeneutics on the basis of phenomenology, by demonstrating that Husserl's intentionality presupposes appartenance, the latter being the preceding relation of inclusion that is embracing the pretended autonomous subject and the object pretendedly opposed to it.20 In doing so, Ricoeur is building
17 In Aristotelian ethics it is the art of keeping the ethical virtues in their fair equilibrium—the famous 'right middle'—between defect and excess.
18 H.G. Gadamer, Wahrheit und Methode; Grundzüge einer philosophischen Hermeneutik, Tübingen 1960.
19 P. Ricoeur, 'Phänomenologie und Hermeneutik', in: E.W. Orth (ed.), Phänomenologie Heute; Grundlagen- und Methodenprobleme, Freiburg 1975.
20 E. Husserl, Ideen zu einer reinen Phänomenologie und phänomenologischen Philosophie I. Den Haag 1976.
on Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty and also on Levinas, whom we will meet in the next section.
Against this background, the process of imitation can be described as follows. The imitation of an inspiring exemplar begins with the experience of being appealed by the exemplar. The appeal is part of the very inspiration of the inspiring exemplar. It indicates a certain familiarity or kinship with the exemplar. The values represented by the exemplar are mine, up to a certain degree. They give me the experience of recognition already mentioned, like 'Yes, this is really worthwhile, this is the right thing to do'. But the values represented by the exemplar are also alien, not mine, perhaps even 'too far away' for me. I have not reached (the level of) those values yet. The just mentioned familiarity refers, hermeneutically speaking, to the preceding relation of inclusion that is embracing me, the interpreter, and the exemplar to be interpreted, making the interpreter rely on the exemplar, making the imitator committed to the values represented. Within this inclusive familiarity, I, the interpreter, am 'moving toward' the exemplar's alien values, trying to reach or to achieve those values. By an opposite metaphor, one may say that I am moving the exemplar's values to me, trying to acquire them, to appropriate them. Both movements are implied in the translation or, hermeneutically speaking, the application of the values represented by the exemplar to my life and my actions, this application being the main element of imitation. Unlike aping or copying, this application implies a creative process. The values to be acquired are not sold out, neither are they detachable from the particular life story and the actions of the exemplar. In fact, they are embodied or incarnated in the exemplar's concrete actions, words and gestures. Moreover, they may be hidden or disguised for the most part. And if present, they may be ambiguous.
All this, the inspiring appeal, the experience of recognition and familiarity with the values represented on the one hand and their strangeness and distance on the other, motivate to imitation; all this makes up the saintly effect mentioned above. In the next section I shall enter upon the question of what values actually are, and which values are to be imitated. Regarding the hermeneutic character of imitation, it may be concluded that imitation can be considered to be a practical form of hermeneutics. Whereas hermeneutics in the usual sense of the word refers to a theoretical or academic activity acquiring meanings out of texts, imitation is hermeneutics-by-doing.
It embodies the acquiring of meanings, particularly of values, by practically endeavoring to realize them. The preceding relation of inclusion entails that the hermeneutic interpreter, exercising either theoretically as an academic scholar or practically as an imitator, is committed to the meanings or the values he or she is seeking to unveil, to obtain, and to reconstruct. The saintly effect is not for spectators; it cannot be responded to by just admiration, let alone by a touristy attitude.
Finally, we have to raise the question as to what is actually the nature of the value or the values displayed by the exemplar and to be imitated by the moral agent. What is it we translate or apply imitating?
In ethical argumentation, a value is that by which an argument can be a valid argument, or through which a reason is considered to be a good reason. Ethical reasoning rests on values, but values are not like separate things available directly. They are always embodied or incarnated in something else: in an action, behavior, an event, a virtue—and, as we suppose, in an inspiring exemplar's life. A value may be represented by a goal that is aimed for albeit never fully reached. Or it may have the character of a basic principle that is not directly dealt with itself, but from which something is being approached. Let us look at some examples.
In philosophical ethics, it has become customary to distinguish moral values from non-moral values.21 There is no consensus, however, on the criterion of this distinction. Usually, such goods as justice, respect, love, friendship, freedom, autonomy and human dignity are rated among moral values, whereas physical health, spiritual wealth, prosperity, power, prestige and fame are considered to be non-moral values, or simply 'values'. Happiness and well-being may be placed somewhere in-between. But how should one distinguish between these categories? According to one view, going back to Aristotle, a moral value is a value that serves community and its well-being (eudai-monia), whereas values benefiting only the individual's interests may
indeed be values, though non-moral values.22 A religious view would rather attach the moral character of a value to its relationship to God: a moral value is given by God, and ultimately serves Him and His creation. A modern deontological view, stemming from Immanuel Kant, sharply distinguishes between values unconditionally valid ('categorical' values, in Kantian terms) and values with conditional ('hypothetical') validity. According to Kant's categorical imperative, moral values serve mankind as an end-in-itself.23 In line with Kant, some authors would specify the distinction between moral and non-moral values as an opposition of, respectively, non-instrumental to instrumental values.24 The latter distinction not only means that these values are referring, respectively, either to ends-in-itself or to provisional purposes—not real ends but just means, so to say—but it entails that a moral value cannot be used instrumentally itself, on pain of not being a moral value anymore. When, for example, friendship is exploited to achieve a better position or for other reasons of self-interest, friendship has become an instrument and consequently has lost its moral character.25
I would submit another criterion to distinguish between moral and non-moral values, in line with the French-Jewish philosopher Emmanuel Levinas.26 Let me first stress, however, the importance of such a distinction being made here, in spite of the general lack of unanimity on the matter. Referring to the previously raised question as to how one should deal with the so-called evil exemplars history provides, who from an ethical point of view should better not be imitated, though being strongly inspiring and influencing, the suggestion could be made that the so-called good exemplars might be distinguished from the evil ones by the distinction between moral and non-moral values. Following this suggestion, the appealing effect of evil exemplars would rest upon such values as prestige, courage, toughness, power and so on, whereas the saintly effect of good exemplars would depend on moral values. If so, then the distinction between moral
22 E.J. Bond, Ethics and Human Well-Being; An Introduction to Moral Philosophy, Cambridge Ma 1996; Aristotle 1982.
23 I. Kant, Grundlegung zur Metaphysik der Sitten, Darmstadt 1975.
24 J. Rachels, Can Ethics Provide Answers? And Other Essays in Moral Philosophy, Boston 1997.
25 J. Duyndam, Denken, passie en compassie; Tijdreizen naar gemeenschap, Kampen 1997.
26 E. Levinas, Totality and Infinity; An Essay on Exteriority, Pittsburgh 2000.
and non-moral values is of great interest to our question on imitation. Distinguishing moral from non-moral values is all the more important because non-moral values are also representing goods, albeit not moral goods. They are not bad, immoral or evil as such. Physical health, spiritual wealth, prosperity, power, prestige, and so on, are excessively valued and strongly being aimed at. People pay high prices for them. So they are properly called values. Still, they are not moral values.
As to the question on moral values, Levinas' view combines in a way the three criteria of morality mentioned above, as it integrates components of the Aristotelian-communitarian, the religious and the Kantian-unconditional paradigms. The central issue of Levinas' philosophy is the first person responsibility, my responsibility, which is considered to be the very source of morality in general. This first person responsibility, according to which I am primarily, fully and unconditionally responsible for the other, precedes the more general level of morality, say the level of community or state, on which rights and obligations are distributed equally. On the underlying level, my responsibility is inescapable and cannot be delegated. From Levinas' perspective, Ricoeur's appartenance (belonging to)27 is a moral appartenance to the other. Seen from this basic level of responsibility, the morality of a moral value depends on the other. This implies that a value is a moral value if and only if it stems from and complies with my responsibility for the other. In other words, a value is a moral value insofar as it serves the other.
Let us reassess now from this point of view the examples previously given. Are freedom and autonomy moral values? If they are directed by responsibility, primarily my responsibility for the other, they are indeed to be rated as moral values. If they are to be taken in a general, natural or abstract sense, they are not. Some of the moral values mentioned above—such as respect, love, friendship and justice—may imply themselves this basic responsibility for the other, and in as far as they do, they are from our point of view to be considered to be moral values indeed. But how about physical health, prosperity and happiness—previously counted as non-moral values, or in-between? From Levinas' point of view of responsibility, morality cannot be fully understood from a general point of view, cover
ing me and the other. So these values should also be 'differentiated' or specified between me and the other, just like the previously given examples of freedom and autonomy. My physical health, my prosperity and my happiness are a matter of care for myself, not unimportant but just my business. The physical health, the prosperity and the happiness of the other, however, are like a holy obligation to me. To me, these are substance of my responsibility for the other. And so is my physical health, actually, if there are people dependent on me, as, for instance, my children are. In such a case my physical health is not just my business anymore. In that case, it has become like a moral value. So we may conclude in line with Levinas' view that the morality of a moral value originates from my essential responsibility, and consequently rests upon the difference between what concerns me and what serves the other.
According to Levinas, the relation between the essentially differing spheres of what concerns me and what serves the other is a relationship of transcendence. As a subject I am not only the center of my relations to the world, i.e. of my own perceptions, knowledge, actions, passions, and giving meaning, but I have also the ability of being de-centered by the otherness of the other. Subjectivity is in Levinas' view supposed to incorporate both tendencies: centrality or the 'centripetality' of natural self-interest on the one hand and de-centrality or transcendence on the other, corresponding to the two main concepts of Levinas' principal work: totality and infinity.28 Roughly speaking, these two reflect the propensity to take, to have and to hold on the one hand and the incentive to give on the other. The centripetal disposition, being the stronger of the two, is predominant in human nature. However, the centripetal disposition may be given up or broken through—or sacrificed—by transcendence. Leaving aside the question whether this transcendence is either actively done by the subject29 or rather occurs to me passively,30 we may conclude that the subject's self, his or her natural inclination to act out of self-interest, may be sacrificed for the benefit of something more important or something more valuable—like Francesca did in our opening story, and likewise her children imitating her.
28 Levinas, Totality and Infinity.
29 As Levinas states in his first capital work Totality and Infinity.
30 As Levinas elaborates in his second capital work Otherwise than being or beyond essence (Den Haag 1981).
I would define self-sacrifice as breaking through or giving up my centripetal attitude, behavior or thinking. As self-sacrifice may occur either by chance (un-deliberately) or with determination, the definition includes the possibilities of both breaking through and giving up. Connecting this definition with Levinas' first person responsibility, and with the dependance of the morality of moral values exactly on this responsibility for the other, it may be concluded that the morality of a moral value depends on self-sacrifice. In other words, a moral value is a value worth self-sacrifice in the first person, my self-sacrifice.
What does this all mean for our discussion on imitation? Recalling the saintly effect—incorporating an inspiring appeal to me, demonstrating a moral value that is both familiar and alien, motivating to imitate the exemplar, that is to apply the displayed value to my own life—it may be concluded now that the exemplar's inspiring appeal, as by demonstrating a moral value, is appealing precisely to my basic responsibility. The exemplar's message is that there is something valuable for me to do. For me means that it cannot be passed on to another. And it is a valuable thing to do—the 'right thing'—because of the moral value revealed by the exemplar and recognized by me. The reason by which I may know that the value displayed by the exemplar is a moral value, is the exemplar's self-sacrifice. Actually, it is the exemplar's self-sacrifice that discloses the exemplified moral values as moral values. It is the exemplar's self-sacrifice—being non-natural and therefore surprising, startling, puzzling—that invites me to interpretation and imitation. It is the exemplar's self-sacrifice that makes me presume that the values to be imitated are really worthwhile.
These conclusive words may sound somewhat lofty and high-minded, but let us not forget that they fit perfectly well with the quite ordinary life of Francesca as recounted in our opening story. Her life and the choices she made, as far as being interpreted by her children reading her diary after her death, display such values as faithfulness, dedication and enduring love—praiseworthy values indeed, but not uncommon and, as it may be supposed, extensively shared by their social environment. These values are strongly enhanced and reinforced, however, by the self-sacrifice of the moral agent serving them. By that they become moral values, as we have seen. Francesca's self-sacrifice made these usually routine values really appealing to her children, motivating them to imitation, to apply these values to their own lives and to take on their own responsi bilities. Positively a saintly effect, though not of a saint. The hidden character of what happened at the time has prevented her children from being stuck in admiration and perhaps sanctification of their mother. In such a case they might not have come to imitation.
I started this contribution by warning that self-sacrifice is a controversial concept, likely to be abused in ethical contexts, seducing moralists to deposit moral pressure upon their audiences by propagandizing self-sacrifice in an absolute way.31 The first person perspective that is adopted here, however, effectively prevents the interpreter or imitator from moralizing, preaching, sermonizing or pontificating. Breaking through or giving up a centripetal attitude is strictly limited to a first person, to me. I may notice self-sacrifice occurring to someone else, notably to my inspiring exemplar, I may imitate it but I may never delegate it to someone else.
Have we provided a solution now to all problems raised above? Unfortunately not, I am afraid. The saintly effect of the good exemplar to be imitated may be well understood now, appealing to me and demonstrating moral values reinforced by some form of self-sacrifice. But have we definitely solved the problem of distinguishing between good and dangerous exemplars? The distinction made above between moral and non-moral values may not suffice. Although self-sacrifice is a necessary condition or a necessary element of the saintly effect, it is not a sufficient condition. Moral values imply self-sacrifice, according to our line of thought, but self-sacrifice does not imply morality. In other words, an inspiring exemplar may display a kind of self-sacrifice in order to support the values he or she is demonstrating, but still be an evil exemplar. For what is good, and what is evil? Ultimately, we do not know.32
31 Besides, these audiences have turned out to be female mostly. So the issue is not gender-neutral. History should make us quite cautious as to defending forms of self-sacrifice.
32 And what counts even more: we cannot know, according to a long tradition from Plato's Idea of the Good until G.E. Moore's Naturalistic Fallacy. Some general works on imitation, important though not explicitly cited above, are: E. Auerbach,
Mimesis; Dargestellte Wirklichkeit in der abendländischen Literatur, Bern 1982; S. Jsseling, Mimesis, Baarn 1990; M. Poorthuis, Het gelaat van de Messias; Messiaanse Talmoedlezingen van Emmanuel Levinas, Hilversum 1992; H.U. Reck, Imitation und Mimesis; Eine Dokumentation, Köln 1991; M. Taussig, Mimesis and Alterity; A Particular History of the Senses, New York 1993; G. Wenzelmann, Nachfolge und Gemeinschaft; Eine theologische Grundlegung des kommunitären Lebens, Stuttgart 1994.
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