Identifying concrete ethical demands in the face of the abstract other: Emmanuel Levinas' pragmatic ethics

Philosophy and Social Criticism 34 (3):315-335 (2008)
Critics of Levinas reject the notion that the abstract face of the other can ground ethics and generate specific responsibilities. To the contrary, I argue that the face does ground a practical and pragmatic ethics. Drawing on Levinas' phenomenological analyses of the enjoying subject, I show that the face communicates an imperative to the subject that obligates her or him to repair the concrete context of action in which the subject encounters the other. My elucidation takes very seriously the notion that the face speaks and the face is a body. When coupled with a pragmatic account of communication, Levinas gives us a robust elucidation of the phenomenological and pragmatic dimensions of ethical responsibility. Key Words: embodiment • ethics • face • Emmanuel Levinas • phenomenology • pragmatics • responsibility.
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DOI 10.1177/0191453707087255
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