Not facing the other? : a Levinasian perspective on global poverty and transnational responsibility

Jordaan, Eduard Christiaan (2005-03)

Thesis (PhD)--Stellenbosch University, 2005.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: In this study it is asked why we do not consider ourselves guiltier and more responsible with regard to the thousands of people who, through no fault of their own, die daily from preventable, poverty-related causes. Such neglect of the global poor is not surprising from certain perspectives. However, when the matter is approached from the perspective of Emmanuel Levinas's ethical philosophy, one is faced with the paradox that Levinas claims we are infinitely and inescapable responsible for the other, while the preventable dying of thousands of poor people indicates that we do not behave as though we are infinitely responsible for the other. It would seem as though Levinas is crudely mistaken. However, Levinas distinguishes between an interpersonal ethical relation and an impersonal political relation with the other. The former is a relation of asymmetrical and infinite responsibility to which we are summoned by the uniqueness of the other's 'face.' The latter is a relation in which the 'third' is present, therefore requiring that the self limit his responsibility to a specific other and disperse it amongst numerous others. The presence of the third indicates the beginning of impersonal justice, institutions, politics, knowledge, as well as equality and reciprocity between the self and the other. However, every person that I encounter is a general other with whom I stand in a political relation, while at the same time, also a specific other who commands my infinite responsibility. With every other, I am simultaneously in a symmetrical political relation and an asymmetrical ethical relation. This is the ambiguity of political society: do I relate to the other politically or ethically? Both options enjoy legitimacy; however, from a Levinasian perspective, the choice to politically respond to the other less so. To understand our indifference to the global poor, this study analyses the principal debate about transnational responsibility, the cosmopolitan-communitarian debate, from a Levinasian perspective. Three ways in which the ethical relation with the extremely poor global other have been suppressed, thereby contributing to our ethical indifference to him, are identified. First, writers in the cosmopolitan-communitarian debate seek to preserve the subject in the greatest autonomy and freedom possible and thereby 'legitimise' a political response to the other. Second, when approaching the issue of global justice, cosmopolitan and communitarian theorists suppress the otherness of the other, which is what reminds us of our infinite responsibility for the other and the fact that justice is always incomplete. Third, insofar cosmopolitans prioritise and advocate a greater concern for the global poor, the strategy they favour (they emphasize human equality) is counterproductive for it overlooks and suppresses the uniqueness of both the subject and the other in the interpersonal ethical relation. The criticism of these three aspects of the cosmopolitancommunitarian debate is then extended into claims that a more ethical relating to the globally poor than is presently the case is possible.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Hierdie studie vra waarom ons onsself nie skuldiger en meer verantwoordelik beskou teenoor die duisende mense wat elke dag, sonder enige toedoen van hul eie, as gevolg van voorkombare, armoed-verwante oorsake, sterf nie. Vanuit sekere perspektiewe is sulke nalatigheid te wagte. Wanneer ons egter die kwessie vanuit die perspektief van Emmanuel Levinas se etiese filosofie benader, kom ons voor 'n teenstrydigheid te staan, aangesien Levinas aandring dat ons oneindiglik en onvermydelik verantwoordelik is vir die ander, terwyl die daaglikse voorkombare sterftes van duisende arm mense aandui dat ons nie optree asof ons onsself as oneindiglik verantwoordelik teenoor die ander beskou nie. Dit wil voorkom asof Levinas eenvoudig verkeerd is. Levinas tref egter 'n onderskeid tussen 'n interpersoonlike etiese verhouding en 'n onpersoonlike politiese verhouding met die ander. Eersgenoemde is 'n verhouding van asimmetriese en oneindige verantwoordelikheid waartoe ons beveel word deur die uniekheid van die ander se 'gesig.' Laasgenoemde is 'n verhouding waarby ook 'n 'derde' betrokke is, en daarom moet die self sy verantwoordelikheid teenoor die spesifieke ander beperk om so ook sy verantwoordelikheid teenoor 'n veelheid van andere na te kom. Die teenwoordigheid van die derde dui die beginpunt van onpersoonlike geregtigheid, institusies, politiek, kennis, asook gelykheid en wederkerigheid tussen die self en die ander, aan. Elke person wat ek teëkom is 'n algemene ander met wie ek in 'n politiese verhouding staan, asook, tegelykertyd, 'n spesifieke ander teenoor wie ek oneindiglik verantwoordelik is. Teenoor elke ander staan ek terselfdetyd in 'n simmetriese politiese verhouding en 'n asimmetriese etiese verhouding. Die dubbelsinnigheid van die samelewing lê daarin dat ek moet besluit of ek polities of eties teenoor die ander gaan optree. Beide opsies geniet 'n mate van legitimiteit, alhoewel, 'n politiese respons teenoor die ander minder legitiem is vanuit 'n Levinasiaanse oogpunt. In 'n poging om ons apatie teenoor die wêreld se armes te verstaan, word die sentrale debat rondom die kwessie van transnasionale verantwoordelikheid, die kosmopolitiaanse kommunitêre debat, vanuit 'n Levinasiaanse perspektief geanaliseer. Drie wyses waarop die etiese verhouding met die ander onderdruk word, en sodoende bydra tot ons etiese apatie teenoor die ander, word geïdentifiseer. Eerstens poog skrywers in die kosmopolitiaanse kommunitêre debat om die subjek so 'n groot mate van outonomie en vryheid as moontlik te handhaaf en te bewaar, en 'legitimiseer' in die proses 'n politiese respons teenoor die ander. Tweedens, wanneer die kwessie van globale geregtigheid deur skrywers in die kosmopolitiaanse-kommunitêre debat aangeraak word, word die andersheid van die ander, wat ons aan ons etiese verantwoordelikheid teenoor die ander, asook aan die onvoltooide aard van geregtigheid, herinner, onderdruk. Derdens, in soverre kosmopolitaanse skrywers hulself beywer om 'n groter mate van besorgdheid teenoor arm persone regoor die wêreld te ontlok, blyk die strategie wat deur hulle gevolg word (hulle beklemtoon menslike gelykheid) teenproduktief te wees, aangesien hierdie strategie die uniekheid van die subjek en die ander in die etiese verhouding misken en onderdruk. Die kritiek teenoor hierdie drie aspekte van die kosmopolitiaanse-kommunitêre debat word dan uitgebrei na aansprake dat 'n meer etiese houding teenoor die wêreld se armes moontlik is.

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