The Phenomenology of Sacrifice, the Limits of Sacrifice and its Social Dimensions
A Blog Post by Pablo Markin.
In his study, Petr Kouba has deployed the phenomenological perspectives of Jan Patočka, Jean-Luc Nancy and Jean-Luc Marion, in order to explore different kinds of sacrifice and its limits. This author underscores that “[t]he social dimension of sacrifice needs to be understood in a complex way if we are to see the prospects for and dangers of various forms of sacrifice” (378). Therefore, in this paper the works of Marion, Patočka and Nancy are discussed conjointly, because “[t]hey provide different conceptualizations of sacrifice whose meaning is determined not only by our relation to our individual existence, but also by our co-existence with others” (379).
In relation to the social relevance of sacrifice, Kouba adds that a “sacrifice, however, is not only an absolute gesture of self-sacrifice; it is every act of selfless donation that opens up a distant future from which the given person cannot profit any longer” (379). Thus, this paper argues that “a sacrifice has no inner value in itself. A sacrifice is a social act that either appeals to the existing society or constitutes a new community” (379). Yet, as this scholar also indicates, “what is typical for Marion’s elucidation of sacrifice is a hierarchy of various kinds of sacrifice” (381). Likewise, Kouba delineates the position of Patočka, according to which, “there is a fundamental difference between the Christian view of sacrifice and [that of] pre-Christian or non-Christian religions” (382). This paper, however, also stresses differences between these positions, in relation to the phenomenology of sacrifice, as in this respect “Marion seems to be closer to Nancy, who in his essay The Unsacrificeable, claims that Western thought is characterized by an overcoming of sacrifice. The movement of Western thought, according to Nancy, makes possible a sublimation of sacrifice that turns from real sacrifice into symbolic gesture” (383).
Consequently, this author concludes that “[o]nly if we understand the meaning of sacrifice from what is unsacrificeable can we give justice to those who are ready to sacrifice their lives in order save the lives of others” (385). In this context, Kouba also proposes that “[t]o avoid abuse of the word “sacrifice”, we need to realize that there are some limits where the word “sacrifice” loses its sense. Those limits are related to our coexistence with others which, according to Nancy, remains and must remain unsacrificeable” (384).
By Pablo Markin
Featured Image Credits: Hill of Crosses, Lithuania, July 20, 2009 | © Courtesy of Arian Zwegers/Flickr.
Kouba, Petr. “The Phenomenology of Sacrifice in Marion, Patočka and Nancy.” Open Theology 5.1 (2019): 377-385.