Levinas and Our Moral Responsibility Toward Other Animals

Abstract

Abstract In this essay I show that while Levinas himself was clearly reluctant to extend to nonhuman animals the same kind of moral consideration he gave to humans, his ethics of alterity is one of the best equipped to mount a strong challenge to the traditional view of animals as beings of limited, if any, moral status. I argue that the logic of Levinas's own arguments concerning the otherness of the Other militates against interpreting ethics exclusively in terms of human interests and values, and, furthermore, that Levinas's phenomenology of the face applies to all beings that can suffer and are capable of expressing that suffering to me. Insofar as an animal has a face in Levinas's sense through which it is able to express its suffering to me, then there is no moral justification for refusing to extend to it moral consideration. 1

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Peter Atterton
San Diego State University

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