"This ethical aim needs, however, to be subject to the test of the norm, of obligation. This is where self-respect comes into play. If we again consider the idea of a good life with and for others, in just institutions, the first thing to say is that the very idea of a good life recalls that the self is not simply the 'I' in the sense of an isolated ego. There is already an element of universality operative in the very idea of a good life and the way we find it valuable. Moreover, this idea of universality already introduces the correlative ideas of duty and constraint as applicable to achieving such a life. These, in turn, suggest how sometimes this aim can miscarry and be used for evil, not good ends, which is why a test of moral obligation arises. With regard to oneself this is already a question of self-respect. With regard to others, this idea of self-respect gets expanded to include the question of respect for others through an application of the Golden Rule, which introduces another sense of reciprocity, one that mediates between the idea of the other as in some abstract sense a person yet also a concrete individual. Both the Golden Rule and the respect owed to the other person in turn help establish reciprocity where there is a lack of reciprocity, in a way that confirms both the autonomy of each person and the possibility of solicitude between them. Finally comes the level of institutions and with it the question of principles of justice and respect for every other that can apply beyond the face-to-face relation of solicitude. Because of its rootedness in the ethical idea of a good life, Ricoeur argues that at this level purely procedural formulations of justice as well as beyond strictly utilitarian solutions. Furthermore, there is a place for autonomy at each level that needs to be acknowledged, even if it is true that such personal autonomy is something that can only be attested to, not founded on something outside itself.
Finally comes the stage of applying the ethical intention and the normative obligation it entails to concrete situations. 'This passage from general maxims of action to moral judgment in situation', Ricoeur says, 'requires, in our opinion, simply the reawakening of the resources of singularity inherent in the aim of the true life' (OAA, 240) which again will ultimately have to appeal to a conviction that one can testify to but not prove in some other, final way. That this level may involve conflict requires, Ricoeur adds, a sense of the tragic dimension of action. This may cause us to doubt ourselves or to become disillusioned, or it may, as Greek tragedy suggests, lead to knowledge and catharsis that enable us to go on, albeit not on the basis of a direct and univocal teaching, but rather on the basis of moral judgments made in specific situations. It is, furthermore, one more aspect of what is involved in our attaining self-recognition. The question still remains, however: if conflicts are inevitable, why is this so? And what solution is Ricoeur's little ethics with its commitment to practical wisdom capable of bringing to them? An answer to the first question is that beyond rules of procedure lies a diverse range of ideas regarding any good to be distributed and even of ways to do this. There is no one institutional solution to this diversity. This is why politics is always a struggle in some ways — for instance, in order to prevent someone or some party from snatching a monopoly of power. But there can also be conflicts on how to order the goods a group may in fact agree upon as being desirable. Finally, there is always the question how we legitimate the institutions assigned to deal with these questions, to the point of asking whether they should even exist" (Pellauer 2007:104-105).
2007 Ricoeur: A Guide for the Perplexed. New York: Continuum.
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