Introduction

Ethical Perspectives 8 (4):231-231 (2001)
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Abstract

The articles in the present issue are the result of a study day on William Desmond’s recent book, Ethics and the Between, held at the K.U.Leuven's Institute of Philosophy. This important book certainly deserves a thorough discussion and for many reasons. It is the manifestation of an ambition that reminds us of past periods in the history of philosophy. These days not so many philosophers venture to set up a body of work — three volumes — in the tradition of the great philosophical systems that once tried to cover and understand the whole of reality. When reading Ethics and the Between, Hegel’s system comes to mind not only because we know that William Desmond is a Hegel scholar but also because of its ambition to give everything a place within an encompassing system.Of course Desmond takes care to explain where the difference lies between his metaxological approach and an insufficiently open and pluralist dialectics. His is an attempt to rethink the notion of system so that it is more hospitable to otherness as other, to the rich inexhaustibility of being. He wants to be true to the equivocities of our being and not to give in to the seduction of mediated univocity, as some forms of dialectics do. What is at stake in his work is not forgetting the surplus, the excess, the otherness of the good which suggests a transcendence of each dialectical completion in terms of self-determination.Desmond’s oeuvre is not only unusual today because of its systematic ambition. A second characteristic marks off more specifically his book on ethics: the attempt to write an ethics dominated by the idea of the good, raising the question of the relation between metaphysics and ethics, between being and being good. Desmond seems to tell us that something has been forgotten: the good which continues to be there incognito, present even in philosophies that forget it. This seems to be Desmond’s way of situating himself in an age characterized by the subtle ethos of valuelessness, the perplexity about the inherent value of being, of being as good; an age oscillating between foundationalist unity and postmodern plurality.If it were my task to give an introduction to Desmond’s thought I would have to pay attention to the richness of the concept of metaxu, the between, the way it seems to encompass the whole and keep it together, while at the same time being excessive. I would have to speak about the fourfold meaning of being and the way it shapes different ways of being ethical that dwell more and more intensively with what is at play in the ethos, that is to say in the metaxu.But it is not my task to do this; others have made the attempt more extensively in the papers reproduced here. I doubt whether they will be sufficient to bring to light all the rich dimensions of this book that is written at the same tempo as William speaks when discussing and, I suppose, when he goes running in the morning

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