The third: Levinas' theoretical move from an-archical ethics to the realm of justice and politics

Philosophy and Social Criticism 25 (6):83-104 (1999)
Emmanuel Levinas' radical heteronomous ethics has received a great deal of scholarly attention. However, his political thought remains relatively neglected. This essay shows how Levinas moves from the an-archical, ethical relationship with the Other to the totalizing realm of politics with his phenomenology of the third person, the Third. With the appearance of the Third, the ego must respond to more than one Other. It must decide whom to respond to first. This decision leads the ego from the an-archical, ethical realm to the realm of politics. Although the Third universalizes the an-archical relationship with the Other into the political realm, it does not supplant the original ethical relationship. Instead, there is a never-ending oscillation between ethics and politics. The world of institutions and impersonal justice must be held in check by the an-archical responsibility for the Other. Levinas calls for both an-archy and justice. Key Words: Derrida • ethics • Levinas • liberalism • the Other • politics • responsibility • said • saying • the Third.
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