Ethics of Liberation

In the Age of Globalization and Exclusion

Ethics of Liberation

Latin America Otherwise

More about this series

Book Pages: 752 Illustrations: 22 figures, 14 tables, 1 map Published: February 2013

Globalization and Neoliberalism, Religious Studies, Theory and Philosophy > Postcolonial Theory

Available in English for the first time, this much-anticipated translation of Enrique Dussel's Ethics of Liberation marks a milestone in ethical discourse. Dussel is one of the world's foremost philosophers. This treatise, originally published in 1998, is his masterwork and a cornerstone of the philosophy of liberation, which he helped to found and develop.

Throughout his career, Dussel has sought to open a space for articulating new possibilities for humanity out of, and in light of, the suffering, dignity, and creative drive of those who have been excluded from Western Modernity and neoliberal rationalism. Grounded in engagement with the oppressed, his thinking has figured prominently in philosophy, political theory, and liberation movements around the world.

In Ethics of Liberation, Dussel provides a comprehensive world history of ethics, demonstrating that our most fundamental moral and ethical traditions did not emerge in ancient Greece and develop through modern European and North American thought. The obscured and ignored origins of Modernity lie outside the Western tradition. Ethics of Liberation is a monumental rethinking of the history, origins, and aims of ethics. It is a critical reorientation of ethical theory.


“Dussel invites ethicists and social and political philosophers to remove their cultural and intellectual blinders and attempt to understand the world from the perspective of the excluded, the oppressed, and the dispossessed. Few people have thought harder on these themes than Dussel and Ethics of Liberation synthesizes much of this intellectual trajectory, opening future lines of research explored in the two-volume Politics of Liberation (2007, 2009) and in other works. This is an overdue English translation of a major work from one of the most important philosophers of our time.” — Alex Sager, Marx and Philosophy Review of Books

“. . . the most compelling articulation we have of the map of power and powerlessness in which we live our lives. It is sweepingly comprehensive, a tsunami of thought. Dussel, a philosophy professor in Mexico City, ducks none of the major issues and none of the intellectual figures of the West as he develops his thought about liberation.”
— Walter Brueggemann, Christian Century

"The importance of this work lies, on the one hand, in how it demonstrates the force of philosophical thought that reproduces itself in the periphery of the world-system and, on the other hand, in how it poses theoretical, ethical, and political questions radically important for humanity in this third millennium." — Luis Martinez Andrade, Hispanic American Historical Review

“[A] masterful translation of an important work. . . . Whether one agrees with Dussel’s position or not, the ideas presented in Ethics of Liberation are important, as they propose an alternative model to neoliberalism. The editor and the translators of the text have done a magisterial job of bringing this seminal work by a major world philosopher to the attention of an English-language reading public.” — Rolando Pérez, College Literature

“[A] tour de force both breathtaking and conceptually rigorous.” — Mark Lewis Taylor, Radical Philosophy Review

"Not only an acute awareness of social injustices, but more so the centrality of the concept of ‘the community of victims.' It is this community that is essential for the understanding of social justice and for building an ethics of resistance."  — Thomas Klikauer, Social Justice Research

"Enrique Dussel is the towering figure in liberation philosophy. This long-awaited translation confirms his unique position in contemporary philosophy." — Cornel West

"The most significant achievements of Enrique Dussel's Ethics of Liberation are the ways that it shifted the geography of reasoning and taught us that if ethics is universal, it is also geopolitical. Dussel shows clearly that ethics has a politics that demands the political to be ethical and the ethical to be political. He further demonstrates that the geopolitics of ethics can no longer be controlled and regulated by Eurocentrism. Epistemic, political, economic, and ethical arguments and advocacy are being built from within the 'Third World' and they have a global scope. Ethics of Liberation is a book for our time, an essential tool for building nonimperial ethical futures." — Walter D. Mignolo, author of The Darker Side of Western Modernity: Global Futures, Decolonial Options


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Enrique Dussel teaches philosophy at the Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana, Iztapalapa, and at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México in Mexico City. He is the author of many books, including Beyond Philosophy: Ethics, History, Marxism, and Liberation Theology and The Invention of the Americas: Eclipse of the “Other” and the Myth of Modernity. His books Twenty Theses on Politics and Coloniality at Large: Latin America and the Postcolonial Debate (edited with Mabel Moraña and Carlos A. Jáuregui) are both also published by Duke University Press.

Table of Contents Back to Top
About the Series xi

Editor's Foreword to the English Edition xiii

Preface xv

Introduction: World History of Ethical Systems 1

I.1. Origin of the Interregional System: Afro-Bantu Egypt and the Semites of the Middle East 6

I.2. Cultures without Direct Links to the System: The Mesoamerican and Inca Worlds 9

I.3. The "Indoeuropean" World: From the Chinese to the Roman Empire 13

I.4. The Byzantine World, Muslim Hegemony, and the East: The European Medieval Periphery 17

I.5. Unfolding of the World System: From "Modern" Spain of the Sixteenth Century 26

I.6. Modernity as "Management" of Planetary Centrality and Its Contemporary Crisis 32

I.7. The Liberation of Philosophy? 40

Part I: Foundation of Ethics 53

I. The Material Moment of Ethics: Practical Truth 55

1.1. The Human Cerebral Cognitive and Affective-Appetitive System 57

1.2. Utilitarianism 69

1.3. Communitarianism 77

1.4. Some Ethics of Content or Material Ethics 85

1.5. The Criterion and Universal Material Principle of Ethics 92

2. Formal Morality: Intersubjective Validity 108

2.1. The Transcendental Morality of Immanuel Kent 110

2.2. The Neocontractualist Formalism of John Rawls 115

2.3. The "Discourse Ethics" of Karl-Otto Apel 121

2.4. The Moral Majority of Jürgen Habermas 128

2.5. The Criterion of Validity and the Universal, Formal Principle of Morality 141

3. Ethical Feasibility and the "Goodness Claim" 158

3.1 The Pragmatism of Charles S. Pierce 160

3.2. The Pragmatic Realism of Hilary Putnam 167

3.3. The Functional or Formal "System" of Niklas Luhmann 175

3.4. The "Feasibility" of Franz Hinkelammert 181

3.5. The Criterion and the Ethical Principle of Feasibility 186

Part II. Critical Ethics, Antihegemonic Validity, and the Praxis of Liberation 205

4. The Ethical Criticism of the Prevailing System: From the Perspective of the Negativity of the Victims 215

4.1 Marx's Critique of Political Economics 218

4.2. The "Negative" and the "Material" in Critical Theory: Horkheimer, Adorno, Marcuse, and Benjamin 234

4.3. The Dialectics of Drive 250

4.4. The Critical Criterion and the Material or Ethical-Critical Principle 278

5. The Antihegemonic Validity of the Community of Victims 291

5.1. Rigoberta Menchü 293

5.2. The Ethical-Critical Process of Paulo Freire 303

5.3. Functionalist and Critical Paradigms 320

5.4. The "Principle of Hope" of Ernst Bloch 334

5.5. The Critical-Discursive Criterion and the Principle of Validity 342

6. The Liberation Principle 355

6.1. The "Organization Question": From Vanguard toward Symmetric Participation—Theory and Praxis? 359

6.2. The "Issue of the Subject": Emergence of New Sociohistorical Actors 373

6.3. The "Reform-Transformation" Question 388

6.4. The "Question of Violence": Legitimate Coercion, Violence, and the Praxis of Liberation 399

6.5. The Critical Criterion of Feasibility and the Liberation Principle 413

Appendix 1. Some Theses on Order of Appearance in the Text 433

Appendix 2. Sais: Capital of Egypt 447

Notes 453

Bibliography 655

Index 689
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Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-5212-9 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-5201-3
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