International Journal of Philosophical Studies 14 (1):79 – 94 (2006)
In his recent article 'Speech and Sensibility: Levinas and Habermas on the Constitution of the Moral Point of View', Steven Hendley argues that Levinas's preoccupation with language as 'exposure' to the 'other' provides an important corrective to Habermas's focus on the 'procedural' aspects of communication. Specifically, what concerns Hendley is the question of moral motivation, and how Levinas, unlike Habermas, responds to this question by stressing the dialogical relation as one of coming 'into proximity to the face of the other' who possesses 'the authority to command my consideration'. Hendley's thesis is bold and provocative. However, it relies on too partial a reading of Levinas's work. In this paper I argue that the sense in which Levinas thinks of 'justifying oneself' cannot be adequately understood in terms of an 'outstretched field of questions and answers'. Rather, Levinas's primary concern is to show how, prior to dialogue, the 'I' is constituted in existential guilt: the violence of simply being-there.
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