From Alterity to Proximity: Emmanuel Levinas on the Natural Law of Love

Jonathan Crowe

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterResearchpeer-review


Emmanuel Levinas’ account of ethics emphasises the face-to-face relation with the other. Levinas’ rich and nuanced phenomenology of this relation traces a dynamic movement – akin to a dance – where the self is continually compelled to both separate herself from and approach the other. Levinas’ emphasis in his first major work, Totality and Infinity, falls on the radical alterity or strangeness of the other. His second major work, Otherwise than Being, shifts the focus to the subject’s need to approach the other, giving rise to a relation of proximity, where the suffering and vulnerability of the other is laid bare. This chapter argues that Levinas’ two major works yield a coherent and compelling account of the diachronic movement of ethical life. Levinas shows, first, how the subject is naturally inclined to self-absorption and enjoyment; second, how this egoistic outlook is inherently unstable; and, third, how the subject’s initial focus on enjoyment creates the separation necessary to assume responsibility for the other. I contend that Levinas’ theory traces what might properly be described as the natural law of love.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationChristianity, Ethics and the Law: The Concept of Love in Christian Legal Thought
EditorsZachary R. Calo, Joshua Neoh, A. Keith Thompson
Place of PublicationLondon
Number of pages15
ISBN (Electronic)9781003148920
ISBN (Print)9780367710057
Publication statusPublished - 2023


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