The Pregnant Body and the Birth of the Other: Arendt’s Contribution to Original Ethics

Research in Phenomenology 50 (2):199-215 (2020)
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Abstract

This paper examines Hannah Arendt’s contribution to recent debate concerning the urgency of Martin Heidegger’s original ethics. To this end, I turn to Arendt’s existential interpretation of birth as this takes shape in her discourse on the miracle. Though recent commentators have criticized Arendt’s emphasis on the miracle, I argue that she deepens a conversation about birth that Dennis Schmidt, following Jacques Derrida, has set in motion in his efforts to contribute to a more original ethics. Whereas Schmidt prioritizes the helplessness of the newborn, Arendt’s interpretation of the miracle suggests that birth reminds us not simply of our responsibility to help the helpless, but also of our responsibility to prepare the world for the incalculable possibilities of the newcomer. In this, I argue that Arendt brings into focus the ground of our responsibility to make space in the world for what cannot be reduced and decided on in advance by calculative procedure, thereby opening new paths to thinking the task of original ethics.

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Jennifer Gaffney
Loyola University, Chicago

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