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Seminary One Bite at a Time: Derrida on Ethics & Duty


Jacques Derrida, 1930-2004


Postmodern Theology Two Minute Speech February 25, 2024


I focused on this quote from the Gschwandtner article[1]:


“… ethics must be sacrificed in the name of duty. It is a duty not to respect, out of duty, ethical duty.”

This is a story Kamala Harris recently told.


A woman presented in the ER. She was having a miscarriage. The baby had a heartbeat, but the pregnancy was not viable. Because it was against the law to terminate the pregnancy, the woman was sent home without treatment. The woman developed septicemia and returned to the ER and received the lifesaving care she should have received initially.


From my side reading, I found this quote:


“Derrida is pushing us to think how “the ethical is a temptation”, to think about the ways that our very attempts to be ethical, to be responsible, to make the right decision, can themselves directly lead us to be unethical, irresponsible, to avoid a decision.”

In making the “ethical” choice, the ER physician irresponsibly avoided making the best decision, which would have been to provide lifesaving care at the start.

And again from the Gschwandtner article:


“One must behave not only in an ethical or responsible manner, but in a nonethical, nonresponsible manner, and one must do that in the name of duty, of an infinite duty, in the name of absolute duty.”

“Christians”, in their efforts to codify pro-life positions, believe they are acting for the greatest good. What those laws actually do is ratchet down the physician’s decision-making power, crippling them from choosing what truly is the greatest good, and causing them to violate what Derrida describes as the “absolute unconditional nonnegotiable duty”.


[1] Postmodern Apologetics?: Arguments for God in Contemporary Philosophy, Chapter: Jacques Derrida and “Religion Without Religion”, Christina M. Gschwandtner.

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