Commanding, Giving, Vulnerable: What is the Normative Standing of the Other in Levinas?

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)


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  • Sheffield University


As everyone knows, at the heart of Levinas’s work is the apparently simple idea that through the encounter with another person, we are forced to give up our self-concern and take heed of the ethical relation between us. But, while simple on the surface, when one tries to characterise it in more detail, it can be hard to fit together the various ways in which Levinas talks about this relation, and to identify precisely what he took its normative structure to be; for, this is described in a number of apparently different ways, that are not obviously compatible or equivalent, such as ‘command’, ‘call’, ‘summons’, ‘demand’ and so on. In this paper, we intend to focus on these different characterisations, and show what makes them different, while also endeavouring to find a way in which Levinas’s conception may nonetheless be fitted together into a coherent account of the face-to-face encounter which is at the heart of his ethics. We will begin by considering the different normative terms used to characterise the encounter in that text, and show how they are conceptually distinct from one another; we will then offer a way to read Levinas’s position to nonetheless show how these different normative relations can be fitted together into a stable position.


Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationLevinas and Analytic Philosophy
Subtitle of host publicationSecond-Person Normativity and the Moral Life
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2019