Eating Ethically: Emmanuel Levinas and Simone Weil

American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly 76 (2):295-320 (2002)
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Emmanuel Levinas’s work on the ethical responsibility of the face-to-face relation offers an illuminating context or clearing within which we might better appreciate the work of Simone Weil. Levinas’s subjectivity of the hostage, the one who is responsible for the other before being responsible for the self, provides us with a way of re-encountering the categories of gravity and grace invoked in Weil’s original account. In this paper I explore the terrain between these thinkers by raising the question of eating as, in part, an ethical act. Weil’s conception of grace refers to the state of decreation in which the utter humility of the self moves toward a kind of disintegration and weightlessness. This weightlessness, which Weil contrasts to the gravity of terrestrial weight, might be thought of in terms of the subject’s fundamental responsibility for the other, especially in terms of the injunction “Thou shalt neither kill nor take the food of thy neighbour.” Taking the place of the other, taking the food from the mouth of the other, is the ethical dilemma facing the subject as hostage and an elaboration of this situation may provide us with steps toward a radical questioning of anorexia as—at least inpart—an ethical rather than purely medical condition



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Michelle Boulous Walker
University of Queensland

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