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Finite subjectivity and absolute responsibility: Toward a political ethics for the technological era

Purdue University
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  • Philosophy|Political Science
  • General
  • Philosophy
  • Political Science


This dissertation develops a political ethics based on a new conceptualization of human power and responsibility in light of the phenomenon of technology. Based on the work of Heidegger and Levinas, I develop the thesis that humankind's relationship with the world is essentially one of manipulation and appropriation of nature for human ends. Prior to the luxury of recourse to moral norms that we might use to guide human action, we are engaged in the world, executing a transformative power over nature. I establish the need for a new understanding of the classical concept of moral responsibility, based on this reinterpretation of humankind's basic mode of relating to the world. I maintain that human responsibility is an “undeclinable” function of our capacity to redefine the world through technology. As such, responsibility is not a choice, but a burden that defines the human condition. I determine that traditional political theorists such as Hobbes and Kant fail to apprehend the immediate and ineluctable nature of human responsibility—even while they implicitly recognize that the power of the human technological imagination challenges the distinction between the human and the divine. In order to use technological power toward creative and world-sustaining ends, we must address traditional political theory's oversight of the “infinite” responsibility that we bear for the condition of the world. ^

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