Is the Other radically ‘other’? A critical reconstruction of Levinas’ ethics

Philosophy and Social Criticism 38 (9):977-995 (2012)
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Many Levinasians are prone to merely assert or presuppose that the Other is ‘radically Other’, and that such Otherness is of patent ethical significance. But building ethics into the very concept of ‘the Other’ seems question-begging. What then, if not mere Otherness, might motivate Levinasian responsibility? In the following discussion I argue that this can best be answered by reading Levinas as a post-Holocaust thinker, preoccupied with how one’s simply being-here constitutes a ‘usurpation of spaces belonging to the other’. Then, drawing on Schutz’s phenomenology, I explain how the resultant usurpatory bad conscience presupposes the embodied ‘interchangeability’ of self and Other. As such, one can be said to ‘usurp’ the Other’s place only insofar as self and Other are not radically different.



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Bob Plant
University of Aberdeen (PhD)

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