In Defense of Ambivalence and Alienation

Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 17 (1):13-26 (2014)
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Abstract

In this paper, I argue against certain dogmas about ambivalence and alienation. Authors such as Harry Frankfurt and Christine Korsgaard demand a unity of persons that excludes ambivalence. Other philosophers such as David Velleman have criticized this demand as overblown, yet these critics, too, demand a personal unity that excludes an extreme form of ambivalence (“radical ambivalence”). I defend radical ambivalence by arguing that, to be true to oneself, one sometimes needs to be radically ambivalent. Certain dogmas about alienation are even more entrenched. Allen Wood’s entry on “alienation” in the Oxford Companion to Philosophy begins as follows: “A psychological or social evil, characterized by one or another type of harmful separation, disruption or fragmentation, which sunders things that belong together.” I think that it is not true that self-alienation is necessarily “harmful.” I argue that radical ambivalence is a form of self-alienation. Thus, because faithfulness to oneself sometimes requires radical ambivalence, to be true to oneself, one sometimes needs to be alienated from oneself

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