In the wake of Schiller’s critique of Kantian morality as too disembodied (echoed in Foucault’s work on ethical ascesis), I understand ethics as requiring both principled beliefs (and duties) and also a set of moods, sensibilities, and bodily comportments hospitable to carrying them out. My contention is that the intensity of the compound mood of enchantment (wonder/disturbance) could serve as one impetus to ethical action, insofar as it contributes the energy or motive force needed to render human bodies capable of jumping the gap between mere conviction that a course of action is good and the actual doing of the deed. What Spinoza called the “joyful” affects are needed to energize a body called upon—by habit, sympathy, or reason—to love, forgive, treat with compassion or minimized harm to (an ontologically diverse range of) others. In short, I think that, under the right circumstances, the mood of enchantment, which entails the experience of the outside as making a call, can be an important part of ethics.
Bilgrami, too, is interested in the ethical implications of enchantment. He begins with the intriguing claim that the call from outside serves as the very condition of possibility of human will and therefore agency: to desire to have or to do something is to experience that thing or activity as “desirable rather than as desired,” as, in other words, a response to an external call. What is more, the very experience of ourselves as moral subjects depends upon this experience of a world of outside objects: “in the very moment and act of perceiving values without, we also perceive ourselves within, as subjects rather than as objects. The experience of value without and agency within are not two different and independent experiences.” In short, “it is only because the world itself contains desirabilities (or values) that we perceive that our agency really gets triggered or activated. The very possibility of agency therefore assumes an evaluatively enchanted world.”
Based as it is upon an assertion of the constitutive interdependence of the notions of subject and object, this argument makes good sense. But it also reveals the extent to which Bilgrami and I have different views of human agency—what composes it, how it is activated and sustained. I think that human agency is best conceived as the effect of a perspicuous configuration of human and nonhuman forces. When humans act, they do not exercise exclusively human powers, but express and inflect the powers of a variety of “foreign” bodies internal to them, including bacteria in the human gut, heavy metals absorbed into flesh, words and sounds from human and nonhuman cultures, etc. There is a difference between these nonhuman actants and a human (compound) individual, but neither considered alone has real agency. The locus of agency is always a human-nonhuman collective.
Even though Aristotle is driven towards concretion in both (a) asking the question “What is being” in terms of “What is primary being”, and (b) in offering an exhaustive categorial determination of all things in the world, he seems to fall short of the step that would yield fuller concretion. In fact, it is implausible to hold that any claims to the concretion of being can bypass or underestimate the ‘who’ of the question of being.