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Obligation and the Fact of Sense

Bryan Lueck

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A substantially new account of obligation, inspired by major thinkers in the Continental tradition

Bryan Lueck offers a substantially new solution to a classic philosophical problem: how is it possible that morality genuinely obligates us, binding us without regard to our perceived or actual well-being? Staging a fruitful dialogue between the analytic and Continental philosophical traditions, while reflecting specifically on the work of Hegel, Merleau-Ponty, Serres and Nancy, Lueck offers a creative new approach. Building on Immanuel Kant’s fact of reason – the idea that being a moral subject presupposes that one has accepted the bindingness of obligation – Lueck shows that moral obligation must be rethought as the fact of sense.

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Introduction: Ethics in the Sheep’s Shop

  1. Philosophical Reflection on Obligation
  2. Elements of a General Conception of Obligation

1. Four Early Modern Accounts of Obligation

  1. Voluntarism
  2. Rationalism
  3. Egoism
  4. Sentimentalism

2. The Copernican Revolution in Ethics

  1. Reflection as the Source of the Problem of Normativity
  2. Kant and the Copernican Revolution in Ethics
  3. The Argument of the Collins Lectures
  4. The Argument of the Groundwork
  5. The Fact of Reason

3. Perceptual and Expressive Sense

  1. Normativity in Perceptual Experience
  2. Two Objections to the Perception-Based Account
  3. Saussurian Linguistics
  4. Merleau-Ponty’s Reinterpretation of Saussure
  5. The Dynamic of Communication
  6. Obligation and the Claim of the Other

4. Noise

  1. Noise as Originary
  2. Noise and Moral Sense
  3. Exposure to Noise as the Fact of Sense
  4. Harlequin Emperor of the Moon
  5. The Devil or the Good Lord?

5. Abandonment and the Moral Law

  1. Sense as Shared
  2. Abandonment and Obligation
  3. Dignity

6. Indifference

  1. Obligation as Overriding
  2. The Givenness of Facts
  3. Subjunctive Indeterminacy
  4. The Law of Expansion

7. Conclusion

  1. Is This Still Obligation?
  2. A Deflationary Account


About the Author

Bryan Lueck is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. His research focuses on topics in normative ethics including obligation, contempt, dignity and forgiveness, as well as on issues in 20th-century and contemporary Continental philosophy. He is the author of numerous articles on such figures as Immanuel Kant, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Michel Serres, Jean-François Lyotard and Giorgio Agamben.


This book explains how the leading modern theories in ethics require but fail to account for obligation. Then through a study of our commitment to the world and to sense, in Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Michel Serres, and Jean-Luc Nancy, the author offers a new way to argue for the reality of obligation.

- Alphonso Lingis, Pennsylvania State University

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