Etica e cura del desiderio

Guido Cusinato


Ethics and Care of Desire

Botticelli and Tizian depict the Annunciation in two very different ways. Botticelli portrays a kneeling angel in an act of guiding from below, while Tizian represents an angel imposing himself from above with an authoritarian forefinger. Botticelli’s painting suggests an intention of orientation that is not authoritarian yet able to bring about a transformation (Umbildung). It also suggests that an individual’s transformation cannot be achieved in a closed solipsistic dimension, but requires a disclosure from otherness. My theory is that at the origin of ethics there is a non-authoritarian way of orientation that comes from otherness and arises from the emotional sphere thanks to a “care of desire”. The expression cura sui has often been interpreted as a care confined to a private and solipsistic dimension with the aim of strengthening the self-referential subject. By “care of desire” I mean a care not turned upon itself but made possible by a disclosure coming from otherness and addressed to the transformation of the individual and of society. In the human existence, emotions reveal an extraordinary plasticity. They are not already regulated by instinct but develop and get to maturity even many years after biological birth. Moreover, this maturation process does not follow a universal process identical for everyone, being different for every individual. In fact it finds its realization in the unique order of feelings (ordo amoris) that characterizes every individual. Emotions guide actions and the way we interact with the others and with the world. In the human existence they become plastic and don’t have only a homeostatic function of self-regulation. They give flexibility to our way of perceiving, of existing and of taking our position in the world. The care of desire is dedicated to the plasticity of emotions and makes ethics, i.e. a person’s formation process (Bildung) and flourishing, possible. It also allows the transition from the “environmental closedness” (Umweltgeschlossenheit) to the world-openness (Weltoffenheit). To sum up, the care of desire implies the transition from a solipsistic self-care to a “care for world-openness”. From this point of view, emotion is no more the secondary result of a cognitive process, but at the origin of every formative, perceptive and cognitive process: in the beginning was the emotion. Yet in this process of creative transformation not every emotion has the same significance: at the core of emotions’ plasticity there are love and wonder (thaumazein), whose peculiar feature is their common being “lack of envy” (aphthonoi).


Guido Cusinato; etica; ordo amoris; aphthonoi; thaumazein;

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