Thursday, 8 December 2016

Coming across Lévinas

I'm probably always out of step with the times. Back in the days when Lévinas was in vogue I didn't care much for his philosophy, but today I can't help thinking of it with fondness. There's undoubtedly something right about it. An important moral intuition that what is right has very little to do with legality, the state or the nation. Why are there so few who dare to say that today? Maybe I'm nostalgic for the days when what he wrote didn't seem as controversial and bold as it does today? Today, ever since the "refugee crisis", those who speak up for hospitality are immediately accused of "lacking solutions", but we shouldn't forget that the accusers lack solutions too - namely to the other's suffering.

I came across an essay on Lévinas today, "What Do We Owe Each Other?". It's by Aaron James Wendland, a research fellow at the University of Tartu and it ends like this.
Levinas has taught us that our responsibility for others is the foundation of all human communities, and that the very possibility of living in a meaningful human world is based on our ability to give what we can to others. And since welcoming and sharing are the foundation upon which all communities are formed, no amount of inhospitable nationalism can be consistently defended when confronted with the suffering of other human beings. “In the relationship between same and other, my welcoming of the other is,” as Levinas puts it, “the ultimate fact.”

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