Learning from the Other: Levinas on Ethics, Discourse and Language

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Abstract

Interpreters of Emmanuel Levinas often note the central role he gives to language in his account of ethical discourse. Levinas himself puts the matter quite strongly, claiming, for example, that ‘[a]bsolute difference … is established only by language’. This aspect of Levinas’s thought has seemed to many readers to rule out the possibility of ethical relations with non-human animals. My aim in this article is to present an alternative reading of Levinas that avoids this implication. I argue that the core emphasis of Levinas’s account lies not on language, but on our capacity to learn from the other. We do this through what I term the second look: we respect [re-specere] the other by letting her teach us, by giving her our undivided attention, by looking at her again. Learning from the other, whether through language or otherwise, creates an ethical conversation that ‘puts in common a world hitherto mine’.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)452-464
JournalGriffith Law Review
Volume31
Issue number3
Early online date5 Aug 2022
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2022

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