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Power and Self-Cultivation: Aesthetics, Development Ethics and the Calling of Poverty

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In this paper, I explore the ideal of self-cultivation as it confronts the holders of power and our practice and understanding of ethics and aesthetics. I begin with the field of social development as an illustrative case of field of power that is in urgent need of a reconstructive and transformative practice of self-development. I take the ethical deliberations in the field of development, that is, development ethics as an exemplar of ethical reflection today, and look at aesthetics through the contemporary quest of and reflections on self-cultivation. Then, I discuss the challenge of recognizing the face of the other that the radical alterity of poverty presents to the quest for freedom, exercise of power and the ideal of self-cultivation. Through a dialogue with the face of the other, I wish in this paper to move from a self-congratulatory view of freedom as an assertion of one's rights to the terrain of what Emmanuel Levinas calls "difficult freedom", and reiterate the imperative of responsibility that knocks at our door — an imperative that disturbs our slumber and urges for a "permanent wakefulness" in us.

The mission of development ethics is to keep hope alive. By any purely rational calculus of future probabilities, the development enterprise of most countries is doomed to fail. Poor classes, nations, and individuals can never catch up with their rich counterparts as long as they continue to consume wastefully and to devise ideological justifications for not practicing solidarity with the less developed. Only some transcultural calculus of hope, situated beyond apparent realms of possibility, can elicit the creative energies and vision which authentic development for all requires.


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