Worlds apart?: Habermas and Levinas

Philosophy and Social Criticism 23 (1):1-20 (1997)
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Though doubtless two of the leading philosophers in ethics today, Habermas and Levinas have yet to be subjected to sys tematic comparison. This essay undertakes a first step. Differences of terminology aside, Habermas and Levinas can be seen to pursue, via separate routes, a similar core idea. I term this the idea of immanent normativity. While Habermas locates an unchosen normative pull in the medium of interpersonal communication, Levinas locates an unconditional ethical command in the Other as face. Hence they unite in strongly opposing social contract theory's notion of moral ity as optional and of responsibility as conditional upon self-interest. Key Words: contractualism • Habermas • Levinas • vulnerability.



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