Ethics and the speaking of things

Theory, Culture and Society 26 (4):398-419 (2009)
Abstract
This article is about our relationship with things; about the abundant material geographies that surround us and constitute the very possibility for us to be the beings that we are. More specifically, it is about the question of the possibility of an ethical encounter with things (qua things). We argue, with the science and technology studies tradition (and Latour in particular), that we are the beings that we are through our entanglements with things, we are thoroughly hybrid beings, cyborgs through and through – we have never been otherwise. With Heidegger we propose that a human-centred ethics of hybrids will fail to open a space for an ethical encounter with things since all beings in the sociomaterial network – humans and non-human alike – end up circulating as objects, enframed as ‘standing reserve’, things-for-the-purposes-of the network. We suggest that what is needed is an ethos beyond ethics, or the overcoming of an ethics – which is based on the will to power – towards an ethos of letting be. We elaborate such a possibility with the help of Heidegger, in particular with reference to the work of Graham Harman and his notion of ‘tool-being’. From this we propose, very tentatively, an ethos that has as its ground a poetic dwelling with things, a way of being that lets being be (Gelassenheit). We show how such a poetic dwelling, or ethos of Gelassenheit, may constitute the impossible possibility of a very otherwise way of being with things – an ethos of a ‘community of those who have nothing in common’ as suggested by Alphonso Lingis.
Keywords Ethics  Technology  Heidegger  Harman
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