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The Ethics of Uncertainty: Aporetic Openings


Paperback, 120 pages

ISBN 0974853429

ISBN-13 9780974853420

The Ethics of Uncertainty asks what it means to live, act, decide, and respond responsibly, in the aporia of freedom itself - a freedom which on one hand opens us to the open space of possible possibilities, and on the other, leaves us no stable ground or measure for pre/determined decision making. The aporia of freedom is conditioned by the indeterminate space of knowing we must make decisions, and yet, at the same time, we cannot call on an absolute authority or measure as a guide. Aporias open us to freedom, the place where, as Derrida has taught us, an ethical decision may occur. Allowing indeterminacy to exist in our becoming allows a continuous coming to be with others - a becoming always open to the "to come" (Derrida) of the future. Always drawing us toward the possibility of making a decision within the fabric of indecision, aporias give us the possibility of ethical becoming. Overall, this text points us to the possibility of living an ethical life in a world without absolute measure - an ethics, in other words, of uncertainty. Michael Anker currently teaches philosophy at the College of New Rochelle in New York and a workshop at the European Graduate School (Switzerland).

Customer Reviews:

  • the necessity of the aporia

    What does it mean to live in uncertainty, to live without clearly defined ideas of Truth and it's dialectical brother, Falsehood? How does it effect our day to day decisions, our ethical concerns and even our entire outlook on life? What does it mean to attempt to act within an uncertain world, to exist without even a firm ground from which to conceive of acting? What happens when the Other disappears after Nietzche's "death of God", when all we know or suspect can only be of this world, and not of another metaphysical plane? In essence, what happens when we sense, explosively, in the words of Jean Luc Nancy, that "the world in itself is enough"?

    Michael Anker seeks to answer some of these questions in his book The Ethics of Uncertainty by drawing on the works of Jacques Derrida, Nancy, and Wolfgang Schirmacher, among others. Seeking to define, or at least to point to, an ethics which grows out of, or acts from, the acknowledgment that there can be no certain, exclusive permanent state of something which is not already containing within it something else--that is no black without the white-- Anker lays out, in breathtakingly concise forms, a materialist continuation of Derrida's "messianicity without messianism," invoking Nancy's "sense of the world" and Schirmacher's homo generator.

    Reducing the thoughts of Heraclitus, Heidegger, and Deleuze, as well as Derrida, Nancy and Schirmacher into a short "summarization" (his words), Anker writes that "as something is coming to be it is always already becoming something other". Using this idea as a touchstone, Anker explains that to understand the work of the above philosophers--as well as our own condition--it is necessary to remember, on a materialist basis, that all things are subject to "continuous activity [and] simultaneous action" and that there is "no point of origin" nor "future in the sense of horizon". Anker writes further that all things "exist only in relation" and that "there is only an excess of being." In this, he attempts to show (for a proof would amount to a certainty) the interconnectedness of all things.
    In examining the varied and vast work of Derrida, Anker focuses first on the necessity of the aporia--that is, the blockage or bind--as it relates to the concept of "responsibility", which as he writes, is "intimately entwined with other notions such as duty, decision, ethics and politics." (27) The recognition of the aporia is a necessary precondition for an ethical decision for it is only in its recognition that we allow the space for something other to freely exist. It is the the existence of the bind, temporary and constantly yielding to another, and another, and yet another bind (or double bind, in Derrida's terminology) that allows other things--ideas, concepts, practicalities--to both exist and "to come (a venir)." It is by allowing oneself to remain open, multiple, undefined (except temporarily, momentarily) that one allows the other to come, to be possible. To allow for the possibility of an arrival, one needs to give way to the indeterminate future, embrace the uncertainty over the certain. The moment that is totalized becomes closed, and by extension dead. Freedom, the true "impossible decision" lies, for Derrida, as for Anker, in resisting the totalizing, determining moment, the uncompromising Truth. Anker writes that "totalization, in all its many forms, attempts to close down the future and give nothing other than what is and what is already known. It gives us a world of calculation and pre-existing knowledge in the here and now, but it cannot give us a future which holds the potentiality of an-other, a some-thing other, a thought not yet thought or determined by the present conditions."(43) It is by remaining open in the fluid aporetic space that we allow other things to become manifest, and by so doing act ethically--and thereby, according to Anker, democratically-- by refusing the totalizing structure of (pre)determined knowledge and calculation. "Making decisions here," Anker writes, "in this space of contextual indeterminacy, is truly to make a decision, for the decision did not come by means of predetermined conditions; it was inventive through and through." (33) For Derrida then, in Anker's words, "the moment of decision is always surrounded by a context of indecision." And it is this "context of indecision", in which Derrida's différance, the space between the decisions is allowed to freely disseminate, which allows one to be, or rather to become, constantly and without rest.

    It is this multiplicity of being--that is, the constant be-coming of selves--that leads Anker from Derrida to Nancy and then to Schirmacher for, as he writes, "the ego (subject) is not alone even by itself, or in itself; it is always already with itself as multiple selves" and further that this plurality of selves represents not only itself but "a plurality of self with others, and a plurality of other selves with self."(70-71) We cannot separate the self (or selves) that we call ourselves from other selves. It is instead a constant interaction, a flow of beings becoming, the singular (to use Nancy's terms) becoming plural. Nancy writes that "being cannot be anything but being-with-one-another, circulating in the with and as the with if this singularly plural coexistence."(70) The circulating with, or sharing, however, is not simply the result of a rising god-head, the postmodern equivalent of a Vedantic unitary, universal consciousness. It is rather, as Anker writes, "a sharing of singularities--a sharing of the irreducible otherness of each and every singularity itself," making up, and here Anker quotes Nancy, "the singularly plural and the plurally singular."

    From this be-coming being of Nancy's existing within and on the margins of Derrida's différance, and as the traces of the singularly plural merge with plurally singular, so Schirmacher's homo generator comes to the foreground as a constantly creative, generating force, one living a life of "imperceptible" fulfillment. This is not a fulfillment built upon the certainty of right and wrong, not the arrogant confidence and satisfaction of piety, but instead a quieter, uncertain quality, one taking place "behind our backs," as Schirmacher notes in a conversation with Jean-François Lyotard, related by Anker. It is a fulfillment which arrives, subtly, easily when in concert with nature and not opposed to it. Anker writes that in "generating and generation, it comes to sense (Nancy) its meaning and thus its possible fulfillment, not in the recognized and determinate domain of thinking, but in a "finite thinking" open to the continuous and uncertain coming of difference and other." (104) It is the constant generating force which gives force to itself, not the built-already, thought-already edifice of conventional thinking. It is the unattached, ungrasping qualities of an uncertain existence which leads to true creativity, and lends perhaps, in the words of Schirmacher, "the chaotic and seemingly failed life a touch of lightness."(103)

    Ethical decisions are conventionally judged on previous encounters, prior knowledge of right and wrong gleaned from experience. Whether it is a personal decision or a decision made by society, preceding history--precedent--is always viewed with heavy consideration. It is precisely this, however, which leads one to existing and deciding (irresponsibly, according to Derrida) in a pre-determined and therefore closed universe. Instead, Anker writes, "absolute freedom...opens us to a world without absolute measure," a place of "anxious indeterminacy" where "what we do ... makes all the difference in how the world unfolds."(106) It is only in this unfolded world (constant in its folding and refolding) where the true ethical decision can be made. While there are no clear answers (nor could there ever be in the face of such immense, open possibilities) it is only in this aporetic, uncertain space that true ethical responsibilities can be carried out. Anker writes on the final page of the book that "ethical possibility, or as Derrida would say, a decision worthy of being called a decision (and thus a responsible decision), exists only in this uncertain terrain of contextual becoming--a becoming which be-comes not through the determined path of absolute knowledge or truth, but through the opening (Nancy) in the aporia of being itself."(106) It is only here then that a true decision can be made, if only for an instant, before the arrival of the "to come". Aporias, in a world without absolute measure, like that first step beyond the known universe, give us the absolute freedom through absolute uncertainty to make a truly free decision, and to live a life which is truly "ethical."
    source: Amazon, by user: A36YW4AFW78SQ5
  • An antidote for an age of anxiety

    In "The Ethics of Uncertainty" Michael Anker has written a thesis of relief for the anxiety which plagues most of the "civilized" contemporary world. The author shows us that what we call anxiety is really just the symptom(s) of our turning away from the innate uncertainty of the universe. Anker concludes that the only way to live a full life is to halt the madness that is our search for a substitution for this anxiety and to embrace it fully with wonderment.

    I believe that the book is sorely needed in our time where we find ourselves using technology to drown out the real world on a consistent basis. What most people tend to view as progress is really just new ways for us to attempt to escape the uncertainty of our lives and will really only lead to more suffering as life will always win in the end. No matter what we invent or do, the reality of life and its evolution of becoming will always catch us to us. Anker looks at this problem and not only gives us an anecdote, but does so in a scholarly manner.

    Using the templates of Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Derrida, Nancy and Schirmacher, Anker builds upon his theory that we are all singular forces of becoming. This inherently means that we are never on solid ground and we must always be open to endless possibilities and impossibilities. If we are closed of to any possibility or impossibility we are not able to make ethical (or real) decisions and thus will not be able to lead an authentic life. By being open to any and all possibilities we are able to fully live in a manner which leaves us not only open to the endless creation of our own lives, but the endless creation of others as well.

    The book is entertaining as well as educational. For the multitude of people in countries all over the world who suffer from all types of anxieties and addictions, I believe that this book would allow them to see their paths in a new illumination (or as Anker would say "there is no path"). In a time when life is as uncertain as ever before and decisions are made faster than ever before, this book is a must read.

    Anker attempts to give a philosophical explanation of why so many of us feel so disconnected with life and to ourselves and I believe that he has written a perfect recipe to get us back to the joy of the unknown. There was a time when we were all young where we met the uncertain with a smile on our face and we all wonder how we could ever get back to that type of life. "The Ethics of Uncertainty" will show you how to accomplish this seemingly impossible task.

    source: Amazon, by user: A3P63XGZQCDC9G
  • Changing the world as we perceive it...

    While I find some philosophy books a struggle to read and relate to, this one, in beautiful contrast, is clear, concise and meaningful. It will change the way you view your life and the many roads that lay ahead. It is a powerful exploration into owning your world and taking advantage of living each day to its fullest potential. It is a book that shows us how to embrace uncertainty so we can powerfully choose our choices.
    source: Amazon, by user: A1QWCW03ZCZE4W
  • Sensing the Obvious

    In "The Ethics of Uncertainty: Aporetic Openings" Michael Anker discusses ethics, responsibility, and the opening of space for making decisions within the experience of a reality that is in a perpetual state of uncertainty, flux, and transformation. Referring to points of intersection in theories of Jacques Derrida, Jean Luc Nancy and Wolfgang Schirmacher, Anker finds the "opening" in an ethical participation of citizens and others in the process of active decision-making within an ever emerging, never emerged, society. Ethics and politics, as expressed in active decision-making, guide and predict the experience of the real world.

    Ethics within Anker's discourse are not things (beings) in themselves, but offer a kind of infrastructure for the processes of becoming, sensing, and deciding. There is an almost spiritual component as well, one placed within a materialist concept of the world and of ethics, devoid of theology, doctrine, and reliance on faith. It is inside the spiritual component that I will place "mind," not as separate from body or brain, but as constituting an overarching sense of what and where the body/brain is, who the self is. The mind senses and allows the infinitude of possibility for selfhood and society, as expressed in Anker's thesis: "As something is coming to be it is always already becoming something other." (11)

    While it is entertaining for the non-scientist to consider "becoming" in terms of physics, making parallels to biological evolution, theories of relativity and the uncertainty principle, and while these parallels may seem clear, Anker is not speaking about physics or evolution. Nor is he speaking metaphorically. He is writing in literal terms about change as a function of the science of sensing, a function of the body/mind. In the process of becoming, identity remains fluid. But the ego is not diminished. Instead it finds itself involved in something more powerful than the promises of individual freedom, community affiliation or global identity. Individual rights, community-building and the ability to "think globally" take place within an expansive and non-isolating awareness of the nature of change. "Becoming" becomes politicized within a cultural framework. Change and uncertainty reflect the nature of experience and "becoming" is the nature of identity.

    Attempts to establish a complete and perfect political system result not in perfection but in societal stasis. A true sense of the world cannot occur from completion (totalitarianism). An experience of individuality as a multiplicity, the real possibility of community support, and effective self-governance within the enforced globalization that is occurring today are necessary in the "coming to be" against totalization. Anker allows for an easy transition from ideas about the nature of being and becoming to ideas about political reality. Perfect societies always fail.

    The premise that to exist is to be in flux seems, on the face of it, to merely state the obvious: neighborhoods, towns and the countryside transform before one's eyes; familiar technologies become obsolete and new ones emerge; aging occurs and people die. In "Hatred of Democracy," Jacques Ranciére reminds us that today's religious obsessions and their offspring, multi-cultural "tolerance" and the official state-sponsored recognition of cultural diversity, are a testimony to the opposite - cultural stasis and ideological entrenchment. Living cultures cannot survive if made into artifacts of their own history.

    In our attempts to respect and appreciate cultural difference, societies (such as America) may set into motion a game plan that ends in programs designed to cordon off ("celebrate") that which is different, and in doing so manage to isolate it not from the mainstream but from the majority, keeping it forever safely marginalized from common discourse. Isolation stifles knowledge and familiarity across social realities rather than allowing differences to interact and evolve in mutual respect. When taken to an extreme, this logic can lead to disastrous social policies, divisiveness, ethnic cleansing, war, and a seeming desire for oblivion - the quick path to eternity. Perhaps not so much in America, or not now, but definitely now elsewhere.

    Anker's principle of "becoming" should apply even to closed societies, or those engaged in ideologically motivated hostilities. But how to test the theory out? When facing totalitarianism, for example, does one fight it actively or simply wait, knowing it will fail? It would seem that a struggle is necessary, even as the mind conceives of the end of totalizing political structures. Anker makes the necessary connection between constant transformation and the mutability of beings on a path from self to other. He states what should seem obvious - the inevitability of flux - but clearly bridges the gap between observation of change and the natural capacity of continuous change as a means to clarifying the function of decision-making for keeping a totalizing fascism at bay within organized political states - a process called democracy. Ranciére, in this regard, is a theorist closely related to Anker's idea of continuous becoming.

    Ranciére contends that closed-logic ideologies that rely on religious intolerance and mythology as proof of certainty and the correctness of their own community-building, for example, illustrate a "hatred of democracy." And an opposite ideology, one that places individual rights and personal preferences over the common good, misinterprets the spirit of democracy. Democracy itself is a construction, but one that is our only hope against the forces of fundamentalism, greed and fascism. Individuals today have only a simulation of the freedom they feel entitled to within a globalized society. Which is more dangerous - the totalized path of fixed identity, individualism, and individual freedom over communal needs, or the granting of "personhood" and "human rights" to "artificial persons," i.e., to corporations? These things can seem like mirror images.

    The Spacing of Sense and Supermodernity
    Other aspects of globalization as discussed in "Aporetic Openings" call to mind the theories and observations of Marc Augé in his work "Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity." "Non-Places" is a study of the effects of enforced globalization on architecture, public space, access to information, travel, and the ego. Here Augé identifies three "excesses" of globalization: excess of time, regarding the increase of life expectancy; excess of place, regarding instant access to information and fast travel to distant locations; and excess of ego, regarding an increasing value of personal freedom and individual rights. Augé's "non-places," which allow and nurture the three excesses, are neither inside nor outside communal society, but represent transition points between identities and localities in flux and a permanent condition of closure through formal structures of control. There is little room for the mind to properly sense it's own becoming.

    For Augé, places are created by social interactions between people, accumulating in memory to form historical meaning. Contemporary life, however, is a relentless procession through spaces of transit. Airport lounges and freeways are non-places, but so are less obvious spaces: ATMs, computer workstations, and supermarkets. In these spaces shared experiences between humans rarely develop. Non-places, Augé concludes, remain empty, meaningless environments that we pass through during our solitary lives.

    Author and Sufi Peter Lamborn Wilson describes an antidote within globalization to the conditions of closure in non-places: creating impermanent and mobile communities for specific purposes that are not technology-based and are always face-to-face. These are what Wilson calls Temporary Autonomous Zones, and utilize the excesses of time, place and ego to provide a present moment free of the creative constrictions imposed by living within systems that demand conformity not only to regulations but also to methodologies in most aspects of social and individual life, a conformity that denies the creative power of decision-making and creates barriers to "becoming." TAZ's are places for the mind.

    Michael Anker presents a solid and convincing analysis of the struggle of "becoming" against "totalizing world views." His equation of essentialism and fundamentalism with totalitarianism removes liberalism, concepts of freedom, and multi-culturalism from the discourse as forces opposing cultural completion, and replaces them with the sciences of democracy, creativity, and transformation. Anker's thesis is that democracy is not about individualism, but about an agreement that things change continually. Democracy creates an opening for the individual to engage in continual ethical decision-making, to actively create the society already in flux, and to fall into "the irreconcilable and irreducible `gap' from which being as becoming emerges." (8)

    Anker describes how aporetic openings function for the individual decision-maker, how indeterminacy is the natural state of being, how difference defines being and becoming, and how subjectivity itself is an experiment. I might feel more hopeful about these observations, as globalization defines our new personal reference point, if the anxiety of the individual and the culture, what Anker calls "ontological restlessness," were not so precariously dependent on people's recognition of the obvious.
    source: Amazon, by user: A2UVHWO9BDZT41
  • certainly uncertain

    Anker, Michael. The Ethics of Uncertainty: Aporetic Openings. Ed. Wolfgang Schirmacher. NY: Atropos Press, 2009. 118pp

    With the world knee deep in recession and future mongers screaming out the end of the world in an impending apocalypse nicely scheduled for December 21st 2012, there couldn't have been a better time for a dissertation like Ethics of Uncertainty. So how do we measure uncertainty? Are we in need of a device, gadget or an instrument that can accurately predict the next certain outcome? Have we not created sophisticated technology that can enable us to overcome all barriers? With technology as a marker for progress and success, we still unfortunately seemed to be doomed to the fate that meets and greets us. Was it not the sheer irresponsibility of bankers that led to the recession and economic crisis that looms above everyone's heads today? Couple that with all the doomsday predictions that seem to be surfacing out of nowhere and it is almost a real certainty that we are stuck in an age of increasing anxiety. But with all our sophisticated progress into this new millennium shouldn't we be able to cope with it all? Perhaps what really is needed more than the sophistication of technology is the sophistication of action - the refined being, or perhaps ethical ways of being and becoming within perpetually uncertain terrain. This seems to be the root of investigation that Micheal Anker seems to be exploring.

    Ultimately the issue at hand that needs to be addressed is a code of ethics, a system, or even a discipline based around the idea of aporia. In the Eastern traditions of yoga, zen and such similarly aligned concepts, a great amount of attention is focused onto the present moment, the "now", the "what is". After all the state of being is ungraspable and ephemeral, always fleeing, mutating and changing in every moment. "As something is coming to be, it is always already becoming something other" Anker puts it. However instead of conveniently introducing a dogmatic system or method of operation, Anker cleverly turns the idea of the aporia upside down onto its head and uses uncertainty as an opportunity in itself - an opening. This opening then serves as a passage or a window showing how it is necessary and almost essential to the human condition to have the element of incalculable and undetermined, for there is no linear path that being and becoming follows for continuity. There is no strategy or nicely aligned path constructed for anybody or anything. This is further exemplified in structured religious movements, traditions and practices and their struggles in attempts to remain relevant in this day of age. Is a form of discipline, a system or supposed understanding of the beyond then really relevant anymore? As Anker puts it "Meaning comes not as a gathered unity from above (and beyond) but as a singular difference from within the movement and transitivity of becoming."

    Micheal finally presents clearly and coherently the fact that individuals need to be open to the uncertain, with a receptivity to whatever comes - to all sorts of endless possibilities that may arise from every direction, creating an unconditioned state of existence. In that sense, what truly is encouraged is an almost autonomous freedom to be open to the "to-come" of the future. As we move into a more globalized state of mind with the emergence of a worldwide web and sophisticated methods of communication and technology on a global level, such a state of infinite openness to possibilities addresses very simple fundamental needs as a being- the need to connect with all other beings and the joy it brings. In that sense, an acute sense of awareness of the uncertainty of the opening is an individual responsibility on multiple levels as we thread in a universe of the infinite, unachieved, uncompleted and simply unknown.
    source: Amazon, by user: A16L4UHMJ3D0O6
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