What does levinas mean when he claims that ethics is the first philosophy - Essay Example

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Emmanuel Levinas has become associated primarily with his notion that “Ethics is the first philosophy”. Yet in one of the supreme ironies of his career, Levinas scarcely advances an ethics at all! …
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What does levinas mean when he claims that ethics is the first philosophy
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Download file to see previous pages In light of that, it can be said that Levinas is not writing an ethics at all. Instead, he is exploring the meaning of intersubjectivity and lived immediacy in light of three themes: transcendence, existence, and the human other” (Bergo, 2007). Levinas' claim that the first philosophy is ethics, then, must be understood based off of his esoteric interpretation of the idea of ethics; nonetheless, the argument has some compelling qualities. Levinas' ethics begins with the simple, face-to-face interaction with another human being. Levinas tries to make the claim that the way that people behave when faced with each other implicitly places them in the same moral universe. At the core of Levinas's mature thought...are descriptions of the encounter with another person. That encounter evinces a particular feature: the other impacts me unlike any worldly object or force. I can constitute the other person cognitively, on the basis of vision, as an alter ego. I can see that another human being is “like me,” acts like me, appears to be the master of her conscious life. That was Edmund Husserl's basic phenomenological approach to constituting other people within a shared social universe.
For Levinas, then, the fundamental reality to an interpersonal encounter is the basis for ethics. This ties in with ideas of ethics that Victorian-era scholars, Hume and Enlightenment scholars in general had about the obvious connection between empathy for others and moral behavior. (Wright, 1983, pg. 232; Parrinder, 1972; Halperin, 1974). Hume, for example, argued that empathy preceded more advanced moral judgments and was a necessary condition for those judgments: “[S]ympathy is the source of the esteem, which we pay to all the artificial virtues” (Wright, 1983, pg. 232). Hume's position is that empathy naturally guides us to behave to others morally: There is no need to tell most fathers that it is wrong to starve their children, and no need to tell people not to beat their friends randomly. It is when that empathy is stunted that pathological behavior is caused. Hume argued that the role of morality was merely to make explicit and clear the transition from obvious principles derived from empathy to abstract behavior norms. Indeed, the Enlightenment in total agreed with Levinas' sentiment that it was human sympathy and interpersonal interaction that gave birth to moral behavior. Even Adam Smith, seemingly amoral in his defense of markets, actually assumed a deep empathy in human behavior, which combined with a fundamental political and economic equality that he assumed for his model ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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