This essay argues that it is the machine that constitutes the symptom of ethics— “symptom” understood as that excluded “part that has no part” in the system of moral consideration. Ethics, which has been historically organized around a human or at least biological subject, needs the machine to define the proper limits of the moral community even if it simultaneously excludes such mechanisms from any serious claim on moral consideration. The argument will proceed in five steps or movements. The first part will define and characterize “the symptom” as it has been operationalized in the work of Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek. Although Žižek appropriates this term from Jacques Lacan, he develops the concept in a unique way that exceeds Lacan’s initial psychoanalytic formulations. The second and third parts will demonstrate how the machine constitutes the symptom of moral philosophy, showing how and why it comprises the always already excluded element necessary to define the proper limits of moral subjectivity. The fourth part will then consider two alternatives that promise, but ultimately fail, to accommodate this symptom. And the final section will draw out the consequences of this analysis for ethics and its excluded others.



Author ORCID Identifier

David J. Gunkel: 0000-0002-9385-4536