“Beware the truth makers!”

The German philosopher Emanuel Kant stated that contrary to the contemporary belief of his time we in fact internalise and create our own moral laws but there is a distinction between those which are particular to ourselves and those which are universal. The first level – I won’t do such and such pleasurable activity because it will have some causal negative effect on myself later on – Or a higher level would be that I will or won’t do this activity because there is a universal reason for doing it or not doing it, something that is for the good of the society as a whole. Kant’s purpose with his categorical imperatives was to find an infinite categorical imperative that one could appeal to above every other. 

Emmanuel Kant’s famous example illustrating the first categorical imperative is of the man who is tempted by the seduction of a woman but knowing that if he sleeps with the woman he will have to face the gallows the following morning.

But the lesson of psychoanalysis is that there are subjects who will ONLY do such and such activity because there is the threat of a negative outcome. In other words there is a side to the subject which is masochistic. Often unbeknown to themselves, they can only enjoy activities because there is an un-pleasurable threat.

Sometimes the danger of the subject elevating himself or herself to a citizen of the greater good brings with it the potential of a masochistic jouissance. This could in a few cases be manifest in the case of a priest becoming celebrate or brought into stark focus, with the violent act of the war mongering leader or the suicide bomber who has detached himself or herself from the first categorical imperative or gets pleasure from transgressing it and has immersed himself or herself into the political or religious jouissance and conflating it with the act for the ‘greater good.’

For some reason, not entirely unconnected to Kant’s categorical imperatives I am reminded of what a dancer in Rosas dance company wisely said to me many years ago over a cafe creme outside a theatre where were performing in Nantes when I had got heavily swept up by a certain religious doxa – “Beware the truth makers!”


4 thoughts on ““Beware the truth makers!”

  1. This is an interesting angle. Are you saying that people who are willing to sacrifice themselves for the good of others are masochists?

    Second point I want to ask you is that what do you mean by “Beware the truth makers!”


  2. From a psychoanalytic position you might say that we all have a propensity to masochism but I think that I was trying to elude to is the problem that it is not always clear what the good of others might be. Certainly a personal sacrifice must involve a degree of masochism. But Kant was looking for a infinite universal good that we should all aspire to. However isn’t itbecoming more and more complicated to judge what the ‘for the good of other’s’ might be? And politics is becoming dominated by the promise of the “simple solution’. Which leads on to your second point, of the truth makers, by which I was referring to a desire to the upholding of a singular truth. This desire maybe a reaction to the post modern idea of multiple truths that we can pick and choose from and I don’t hold by that concept either.


    1. My background thought is from psychoanalysis and particularly the work of the French analyst Jacques Lacan and although he might sometimes share a similarity with the post modern thought, particularly through his work with Claude Levi Strauss and other post structuralists his work is embedded in an interesting way in what he names and develops as the three registers of the Real, the Symbolic and the Imaginary. I will write a blog going into the RSI but the long and short of it is that there is a common reality in the register of the Real but the Real is not the same as reality. It becomes individual in the way it links with the the other two registers. It’s very difficult to explain clearly because of the nature of the interrelation between the registers.


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