Volume 7, Number 1, Spring 2000
Rethinking Justice: Levinas and Asymetrical Responsibility
Emmanuel Levinas argues that justice is meaningful only to the extent that other persons are encountered in their individuality, as my neighbors, and not merely abstract citizens of a political community. That is, the political demand for justice arises from my ethical relationship with the other whose face I cannot look past. But despite his revolutionary ideas about the origins of justice, Levinas ultimately appeals to a very traditional view of justice in which persons are considered equal and comparable, and responsibilities and rights are distributed evenly among them. In response to Levinas, I argue that insofar as justice is constructed by and for the relationship, it must also be deconstructed by that relationship. If one takes seriously Levinas’s claim that asymmetrical ethical responsibility is the origin of justice, then one must also reject Levinas’s suggestion that justice involves viewing persons and responsibilities as comparable and symmetrical.
Engendering Questions: Developing Feminist Ethics With Levinas
Levinas’s often reflexive internalization of female stereotypes, as well as his reifications of particularly patriarchal tendencies within the biblical and rabbinic tradition in his dialogue with Jewish law and thought, are only two of the many problems feminists, and particularly Jewish feminists, must address as they engage in his ethics. Despite these difficulties, Levinas’s compelling description of the radical obligation to the Other invites feminists to enter into dialogue with his thought. This article explores the possibilities of developing and enhancing feminist ethics through the application of key concepts and strategies found in the ethical thought of Emmanuel Levinas. Levinas’s conceptions of alterity, relationship, justice and phenomenological uses of gender are evaluated in terms of how they might be appropriated by feminist ethics.
Zionism, Place, and the Other: Toward a Levinasian International Relations
William Paul Simmons
This essay expands on the recent writings on Levinas’s politics by discussing his explicit comments about international relations. Levinas embraces neither a naive idealism, nor a cold realism. Instead, he searches for a third way, that is, an oscillation between idealism and realism. There is a place for realism, but the power of the state must be held in check by the ethical responsibility for the Other. This oscillation is examined in relation to Levinas’s writings on “place” and Zionism. Levinas also calls for an oscillation between the enrootedness to a place or nation and the higher ethical responsibility for the Other. The essay concludes with a discussion of some very controversial remarks Levinas made about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Resisting Silence In the Face of Evil: Re-Thinking the Holocaust, Speaking the Unspeakable, With Emmanuel Levinas & Bob Plant
In the following paper I shall outline a number of preliminary ideas concerning the relationship between the Holocaust and certain themes which emerge in the works of Emmanuel Levinas. As this relationship is distinctly twofold, my analysis will include both a textual and a rather more speculative component. That is to say, while I shall argue that reading Levinas specifically as a post-Holocaust thinker clarifies a number of his philosophical and rhetorical motifs, so, in turn, does this challenging body of work offer a means by which to re-think both the horror and ethical significance of the Holocaust itself. During the course of my argument I shall additionally refer to the writings of Primo Levi, Jacques Derrida and Martin Heidegger through whom I hope also to establish the central role guilt and confession play in Levinas’s own thinking.
Good Infinity/Bad Infinity: Il y a, Apeiron, and the Environmental Ethics in the Philosophy of Levinas
Although Levinas does not specifically articulate an environmental ethic, he certainly has a concept of nature working within his philosophy, a portrait of which can be drawn from the various texts that describe in detail what he believes to be the human, primordial relationship to the elemental. The following essay is an attempt to articulate how Levinas comes to define that relationship, and to imagine what kind of environmental ethic is implied by it. We will see that an important, dichotomous distinction is made between two types of infinity, the “bad infinity” of the sacred and the “good infinity” of the holy. This distinction corresponds to the separated subject’s world. For Levinas, this distinction addresses not only the rationalist vs. empiricist question concerning the relationship between consciousness and the body, a guiding question for modern philosophy from Descartes through Husserl, but also the question concerning technology, especially as it is posed by Heidegger and other twentieth century continental philosophers. These two related questions can help guide us to an understanding of how Levinas imagines environmental imperatives toward both the body’s exclusive relationship to nature, and to the interpersonal relationships between the self and other human beings. We will begin this analysis with Husserl’s answer to the question of consciousness.
Emmanuel Levinas on God and Philosophy: Practical Implications for Christian Theology
This paper concerns the possibility of “thinking” God, and uses the work of Emmanuel Levinas to frame a contemporary approach to some of the problems involved. The difficult relationship between philosophy and Christian theology is noted, before Levinas’s thought is examined as it relates to that which both marks consciousness and exceeds it. Levinas’s adoption of the “idea of the Infinite” and his exploration of two ways in which the Infinite might signify (have meaning) open up a useful trajectory for a thought of God which is not reductive. At the same time, however, this aporetic approach raises difficulties in the context of specific religious traditions. Three problems as they occur for Christian theology are examined in light of Levinas’s work: the problem of not being able to identify an experience of God as such; the problem of the infinite interpretability of revelation; and the problem of understanding the divinity of Jesus Christ.
Talmud, Totality, and Jewish Pluralism: A Comment Inspired by Reading Emmanuel Levinas
Laura Duhan Kaplan
Levinas’s conception of listening for the “trace” of the infinite implies that the human spirit grows when it comes into contact with something greater than it had previously known. When Levinas reads the Talmud, sourcebook of Jewish Law, he tries to enter into conversation with it, allowing the meaning of the text to expand to touch his own contemporary concerns. At the flip side of his expansion, however, lies my worry that the text functions as a ” totality,” assimilating all contemporary concerns to its discussions. At this time of rebuilding in Jewish history, Jews cannot afford narrow conceptions of Jewish practice. This essay does not attempt to elucidate Levinas’s thought, but to use some insights gained from reading his work to think about contemporary Judaism.
Levinas, Theistic Language, and Psychology: A Cautionary Note
David R. Harrington
Emmanuel Levinas has provided the philosophical basis for psychologies commensurate with the ethical basis of human existence; however, introducing psychologists to his work is frustrated by a number of factors. One of these factors is his use of theistic language in his philosophical writings. Two problems are discussed regarding this language. First, contemporary psychology, including the area of psychology of religion, rejects any theistic language as incompatible with an empirical science. Second, it is suggested that many persons, including psychologists, are not in the cognitive developmental stage at which they can understand Levinas’s writings about God. Further, it is also suggested that psychology’s history warns against creating a psychological school or division based in Levinas’s thought. The article concludes with a general discussion regarding how psychology can apply Levinas’s thought while leaving God and Levinas behind.
Difficulty and Mortality: Two Notes on Reading Levinas
Richard A. Cohen
I argue against the work of simplifying and applying Levinas’s thought. Simplifying Levinas misses the point of the greatness of his thought, which is addressed to the most sophisticated philosophical thinkers of his day, and calls upon them to re-ground philosophy in the ethical. Applying Levinas misses the point that Levinas’s conception of alterity is perfectly concrete, because it is linked to morality through the mortality of the other.
Volume 7, Numbers 2-3, Summer-Fall 2000
Symbolic Meaning and the Confederate Battle Flag
The Confederate Battle Flag (CBF) is in the news again. On January 16th, 2000, 46,000 people came to Columbia, South Carolina, to protest its display over the state’s capital dome. On July 1st, the CBF was removed. But on the same day, it was raised in front of the Statehouse steps. The controversy has received a great deal of media coverage and was a factor in the 2000 presidential primaries. CBF displays raise a philosophical question I wish to address: What determines whether a symbol or symbol-display is racist? I will focus on the CBF because its contemporary relevance. But the discussion will shed light on the general issue of when a symbol or symbol-display has a particular meaning and when it does not.
Minorities and Racist Symbols: A Response to Torin Alter
Kant and the Problem of Ethical Metaphysics
Anthony F. Beavers
The ethical philosophies of Kant and Levinas would seem, on the surface, to be incompatible. In this essay I attempt to reconcile them by situating Levinas’s philosophy “beneath” Kant’s as its existential condition thereby addressing two shortcomings in each of their works, for Kant, the apparent difficulty of making ethics apply to real concrete cases, and, for Levinas, the apparent difficulty of establishing a normative ethics that can offer prescriptions for moral behavior. My general thesis is that the existential ethical terrain unearthed by Levinas turns Kantian when transposed into the rational order.
Buridan’s Ass and Other Dilemmas: A Decision-Value Approach
Wesley Cooper and Guillermo Barron
The dilemma confronted by Buridan’s Ass leads into a problem about nil-preference situations, to which there is a solution in the literature that is inspired by Alan Turing: we have evolved with a computational module in our brains that comes into play in such situations by picking a random action among the alternatives that determines the subject’s choice. We relate these Buridan’s Ass situations to a larger, theoretically interesting category in which there is no alternative that is decisively superior to others with respect to expected utility, and we try to show how our emotional makeup figures in a rational response, particularly as informed by symbolic utility that we draw down from our culture’s shared understandings. The category is theoretically interesting because it contains moral dilemmas, as well as hard cases in which an important choice must be made without an option that has clearly superior expected utility. We argue that our Emotional Response Model is preferable to Turing’s Randomizer for this category, as well as more illuminating about nil-preference situations or close approximation thereto.
Towards an Ethics of Time: Eschatology and its Discontents
This essay does not argue for any specific conception of time as ethically superior or significant, but argues that the conception of time we choose from among possible such conceptions has ethical consequences.
Hairstyles and Attitudes: Hacking, Human Kinds, and the Development of Punk Rock
Much of Ian Hacking’s recent work has concerned the notion of ‘human kinds’, that is, ways of classifying people as objects of study in the human and social sciences. In this paper, I use a study of the development of a particular kind of person–the punk rocker– to clarify and extend the idea of a human kind. With regard to clarification, this case provides an excellent opportunity to consider examples of what Hacking calls ‘looping effects’, i.e. particular kinds of interactions between ways of classifying people and those who are classified. As for extending Hacking’s ideas, in punk we see a sort of kind creation largely absent from the examples he has considered. While the human kinds Hacking has focussed on typically emerge from investigations by experts and then filter out into popular consciousness, in punk we see the opposite process take place.
Utopian Liberalism: A Response to my Colleagues
Logic in a Pincers
Herman E. Stark
The essay challenges the de facto dichotomy between the discipline of logic and the activity of social criticism, i.e., it provides an illustrated reminder to philosophers that the gulf between these two areas of philosophy is not quite as wide as our curriculum and specialization designations tends to suggest. Social criticism plays some necessary roles in certain branches of logic, and the second-order accounting of the contents of these branches leads back to social criticism. These points suggest an adjusted conception of logic that would, among other things, render phrases such as “applying logic to social criticism” as misleading since certain branches of logic would not even coherently exist apart from social criticism. The lead illustrations are the identification of basic, pervasive, and thought-impeding logical errors that have been missed by numerous logic texts, and the assessment of contemporary academic logic as properly a quest for communal sanity that lies caught between communal insanity and communal mendacity.
Hestian Thinking in Antiquity and Modernity: Pythagorean Women Philosophers and 19th Century Domestic Scientists
Patricia J. Thompson
Thompson (1994) proposed a re-visioning of the oikos/polis dichotomy in classical philosophy. She offers a dual systems paradigm, based on two ancient Greek mythemes-Hestia, goddess of the oikos, or domestic “homeplace,” and Hermes, god of the polis, or public “marketplace” as an alternative to gender as the primary analytic lens to advance feminist theory. This paper applies hestian/hermean lenses of analysis, described in two propadeutic papers (SPCW 1996; 1997), to the writings of 6th-5th century BCE Pythagorean women philosophers and 19th century domestic scientists to claim them as moral philosophers of the hestian domain.
Volume 7, Number 4, Winter 2000
Socrates, the Marketplace, and Money
It is often supposed that the example of Socrates makes the taking of payment for philosophical services problematic. This supposition is examined on the basis of the evidence available in Plato’s Apology and Xenophon’s Memorabilia. These texts suggest that Socrates certainly had reservations about the desirability of receiving payment in return for philosophical services. However, these reservations do not amount to an outright and unconditional condemnation. Furthermore, some of the reservations derive from the particular values of the culture in which Socrates lived and should not be seen as binding to all. Similarly, whatever specific objections Socrates may have had to the activities of the Sophists should not be seen as applicable to all philosophers who accept payment in return for their services.
Plato on Philosophy and Money
Paul W. Gooch
For Plato, one mark of the difference between sophistry and philosophy is that the sophist takes fees for service. His Socrates does not. However, this paper points out that Socrates’ attitude to money reflects his unique indifference to things bodily, and a more satisfactory understanding of Plato on money needs to turn to his discussion of the love of money or avarice, especially in the Republic. Plato locates money-loving in appetitive soul along with physical cravings like hunger and lust; why he should do so is explained if avarice is seen as a primary instance of a more pervasive possessiveness that is ultimately somatic in nature. I argue that though his remedies are too severe, Plato is right to warn against avarice and its possible effects upon the practice of philosophy. And following Plato I conclude that philosophy is best understood as an enquiry unconstrained by the interests of the market and carried out in the context of academic freedom.
Philosophy and Money-Making
This essay argues that there is no obvious reason not to make money doing philosophy. Whether philosophical counseling is justified, however, depends on the practitioners of the service defining the benefit of that service.
Absolutism and Relativism: Practical Implications for Philosophical Counseling
Andrew M. Koch
This article raises the question of whether or not a “neutral” stance can be found from which to engage in philosophical counseling. By drawing on the debate between absolutism and relativism, it is argued that no such neutral ground exists. The foundational premises of the transcendentalist tradition involve different assumptions than those of the materialist and relativist traditions. Such a distinction goes back to the earliest days of philosophy and today the new profession of philosophical counseling must address the multiplicity of assumptions upon which philosophic discourse can be built. The paper concludes with a call for philosophical counseling to move beyond the focus on Socrates, and to embrace a wide variety of different positions within it domain.
Are Counselors and Therapists Prostitutes ? A Dialogue
Rupert Read & Emma Willmer
Socrates in the Agora: Philosophy as Private Good and Public Act
Philosophical counseling recommends to its clients the activity of philosophical dialogue. The process of thought in dialogue differs from private thought in the greater physical constraints placed upon dialogue. We as yet do not have an understanding of the embodied activity of philosophy sufficient to make viable the marketing of philosophical counseling as a service. The paper is a contribution to such an understanding. The paper considers the notion of a philosophical life and criticizes the possibility of a profession of philosophical counseling. It ends with a tentative defense of philosophical counseling as a marketable service.
Inculcating Virtue in Philosophical Practice
This paper claims that the edifice of philosophical practice bears prima facie resemblance to other counseling-dispensing professions–e.g. medicine, law, psychology, accountancy. It defends virtues of professionalism in philosophical practice against accusations of sophism, and also rejects social constructivism as a politically extreme form of sophistry. It concludes that, notwithstanding prima facie resemblance to other counseling professions, philosophical practice is foundationally distinct from them. When elaborated, this distinction complicates the notion of inculcating virtue in philosophical practice.
Philosophy at the Core of Economic Markets
Karl Reinhard Kolmsee
The market seems to have substituted politics as a coordination model in modern societies. While philosophy’s complementarity to politics is well-acknowledged, its importance for economic markets can be questioned. Economics deals with optimization, but as markets are constituted by real person with individual beliefs and normative values the economic tool box is not sufficient to describe market behavior. This especially true whenever technological innovations challenge established market rules. Philosophy supplies analytical instruments for a better, more complete description of markets including their normative aspects. For this complementary function philosophy should be placed at the core of any theory of markets.