Levinas on Shared Ethical Judgments

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Abstract

[Extract] There is a problem in the work of Emmanuel Lévinas concerning the notion of shared ethical judgments. Lévinas’ emphasis on the face to face encounter as the site of ethical engagement makes a genuinely shared conception of ethics seem both unnecessary and impossible: unnecessary, since shared judgments are not needed to respond to the immediacy of the face to face; and impossible, since the face to face is particular and ineffable.
Discussions of this aspect of Lévinas’ theory have tended to focus on his references to the role of the third [le tiers] in the ethical encounter. However, while the third explains why shared ethical judgments are necessary, it does not explain how they are possible. Some commentators downplay this aspect of the problem; others read Lévinas as positing a radical aporia between the face to face and ethical discourse.
This article offers an alternative response, based on Lévinas’ comments on the temporality of ethics. In order to see how shared ethical judgments are possible, we need to examine the diachronic, as well as the synchronic, dimension of the face to face. This represents an important, but relatively neglected aspect of Lévinas’ theory.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)233-242
JournalJournal of the British Society for Phenomenology
Volume42
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2011
Externally publishedYes

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