The meaning of sacrifice
: Understanding the implications of Jean-Luc Nancy’s analysis of the transformation of sacrifice for humanism

  • Diether Scholten

Student thesis: Master's Thesis: Humanistic Studies


This thesis departs from the idea that (the ritual of) sacrifice started transforming right at the moment that humanism appeared. Humanism, with its practice of worldviewing, is seen as a way for mankind to autonomously and beyond revelation form its own views of the world. The problem is that it is unclear into what exactly sacrifice transformed, and what precisely the implications of this transformation are for humanism. Jean-Luc Nancy, provides in ‘The Unsacrificeable’ a good entry to research into this topic. In the first chapter, I analyse the transformation of sacrifice that is described in that text. In a close reading of this text, I follow the transformation into a new type of sacrifice. All that is left after the transformation into this new sacrifice, is a process. This process of new sacrifice can be described as an ontotheological appropriation of the self by means of transgression. This is a process by which the (modern) subject infinitely loses itself, but only to better come back to itself, in what can be called ‘a mimed passage through negativity’. The old type of sacrifice is copied or ‘mimed’ in an image in which the subject is destroyed, but only in order to be affirmed again through a negation of negation. In the second chapter, I try to understand this new type of sacrifice through the lens of what in humanistic studies has been called ‘worldviewing’. I argue that the process of new sacrifice is the performative structure that makes the humanist practice of autonomous worldviewing possible. This is the first major result of my research and I call this approach ‘sacrificial worldviewing’. This relates to the idea that an autonomous and humanist worldview is enacted and made possible by a new notion of sacrifice. The third chapter begins with a close reading of Nancy criticism of sacrifice. This is based on the notion that existence itself can’t be sacrificed and that sacrifice doesn’t lead to full self-presence because Nancy’s concept of sense infinitely exceeds meaning and so cannot function as its foundation. Using this criticism, I rethink the relation of transformed sacrifice and humanism in depth. The first way I do this is by defending the humanistic practice of sacrificial worldviewing through the argument that it might be futile because it is never complete yet remains phenomenologically necessary since this is what humans do to create self-sustaining meaning in a meaningless world. The second way I do this is by developing an alternative approach to worldviewing that I call ‘phenomenological worldflowing’. This is the second major result of my research and with it, I attempt to both develop humanism and its practice of worldviewing and to deeper understand Nancy’s call to ‘think at a distance’ from sacrifice. Phenomenological worldflowing takes place on the level of lived experience in which the subject follows the flow of sense. I argue that it can be called humanistic because it can be placed under the banner of spiritual humanism, and I argue that it should be more primary than sacrificial worldviewing because it is better suited against Nancy’s antihumanism and because it reduces the necessity for sacrificial worldviewing.
Date of Award15 Feb 2022
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorFernando Suárez Müller (Supervisor) & Laurens ten Kate (Supervisor)

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