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Emmanuel Levinas on ethics as the first truth

De Voss, Vida V. (2006-03)

Thesis (MA (Philosophy))--University of Stellenbosch, 2006.


A brief introduction to the ethical philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas Emmanuel Levinas’ ethics is based on the Other/other. He argues that we are in an asymmetrical relationship with our neighbour that pre-destines us with ethical responsibility even before consciousness or choice. In the face-to-face encounter an infinity and alterity about our neighbour is revealed, which is irreducible to my ontological grasp and thereby compels me to respond to him. It is also through this relation that our humanity is released as our solipsistic all-for-myself becomes a being-for-the-other. Furthermore, the I is irreplaceable, thereby making each of us ethically responsible for our neighbour to the point of responsibility for his material misery. This paper introduces this stance with the aim to underscore it. A brief discussion on the priority of ethics before ontology in the philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas The incessant theme of Levinas’ writing over 25 years has been “Ethics as First Philosophy,” which is synonymous with “The Subject’s Ethical Responsibility for his Neighbour.” This paper is a short discussion of this theme of the origin of ethics. Levinas’ arguments on pre-original time, the Infinite, language and human corporeality by which he establishes a subjectivity that is not fundamentally determined by intentionality and self-sameness, but by the proximity of our neighbour, will be considered. For Levinas it is this relation to the Other that answers the question of the meaning of being and is also the first word of words. First Philosophy is accordingly to be found in the face-to-face which is a subordination of knowledge to a mode of meaning beyond totality.

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