(De)Construction of Identities and the Limits of Ethics

Author: Daniil ARONSON

Abstract. In contemporary philosophy, especially Anglo-American, it is often taken for granted that in various fields, such as politics, economics and law, human conduct can abide by ethical rules. It is also widely held that to seek and find such rules is a legitimate philosophical task. This article shows that the possibility of an ethical standpoint depends on certain conditions that may or may not be present in a given situation. Namely, for an ethical standpoint with regard to a situation to be possible, the identities of the participants in the situation must be determined and must not be contested by any of the participants. Otherwise, an ethical perspective on the situation becomes problematic for both the participants themselves and observers. To the extent that identities are ethically relevant they are grounded in certain performative acts and, therefore, they can be questioned or rejected if those acts are not performed or simply fail. When this is the case, a situation emerges that is difficult to treat in terms of ethics, or normative theory in general, for the situation consists precisely in the questioning of the source of existing norms.

Keywords: ethics, identity, theory of speech acts, performative theory of identity, John Austin, Judith Butler, international law, uti possidetis, right to self-determination, refugees.

DOI: 10.31857/S013454860004084-0


The recent decades have seen a consensus emerge in the Western scientific community that working out ethical criteria by which ordinary people, above all politicians, should be guided in their affairs is a legitimate academic work. This consensus is penetrating, if rather timidly, into Russia as witnessed by a series of public lectures The Return of Ethics, delivered in Moscow two years ago.

D. Aronson, Cand. Sc. (Philosophy), research fellow at the RAS Institute of Philosophy. E-mail: aronson.d.o@gmail.com. This article was first published in Russian in the journal Eticheskaya mysl (Ethical Thought), No. 2, 2018.

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