Humanities and Social Sciences
Volume 4, Issue 2-1, April 2016, Pages: 5-12
Received: Nov. 30, 2015;
Accepted: Jan. 15, 2016;
Published: May 13, 2016
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Augusta Benda Hofmeyr, Department of Philosophy, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa
This essay considers the enigma of ethical responsiveness from a Levinasian point of view. According to Levinas, the self is ontologically driven to persist in self-interest and therefore “naturally” inclined to consider other persons and all other forms of alterity as means to sustain itself in existence. How, then, is ethical action – which places the interest of the Other before that of the self – possible? The violent and indifferent world in which we live seems to lend credence to Levinas’s contention that ethical action is an unlikely occurrence. At the same time, instances of goodness, i.e. small acts of kindness, great acts of bravery, and even lifespans of serving those in need occur on a daily basis amidst the prevailing callousness. While Levinas’s ethical metaphysics offers us thought-provoking insights into the possibility of ethical responsiveness in a largely apathetic world, his thought is not to be understood as a toolkit that offers practicable guidelines that may assist agents to negotiate the quagmire of ethical dilemmas in the real world. This essay starts by offering the reader a brief overview of the three dominant schools of ethical thought that underpin the various approaches to addressing ethical decision-making in the concrete world, a world that requires decisive action. Before addressing Levinas’s perspective and his invaluable contribution to this discussion, it is shown why none of these three dominant schools succeed unproblematically to provide practicable answers to ethical dilemmas.
Augusta Benda Hofmeyr,
The Enigma of Ethical Responsiveness: A Philosophical Perspective, Humanities and Social Sciences. Special Issue: Ethical Sensitivity: A Multidisciplinary Approach.
Vol. 4, No. 2-1,
2016, pp. 5-12.
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