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Levinas: a merciless Ethics

Empathy, sympathy, and even compassion, are, in different ways, at the core of recent thought in ethics – ethics understood as attention payed to the Other. It is tempting to associate Levinas with this tendency as he once wrote that compassion is ‘the supreme ethical principle’. Yet, strictly speaking, ethics, as Levinas formulated it, is merciless – merciless to the Other and even more merciless to the Self who tries to abide it, (not to mention how merciless the Levinasian text is for its readers.) I will show how Levinas can be at the same time and without contradiction the thinker of a merciless ethics and the thinker who proposes 'compassion' as a core principle for ethics, and I will do so by highlighting the radical renewal of the meaning of compassion in his work.
When Oct 26, 2015
from 2:15 PM to 3:45 PM
Where 133 Sparks Building, University Park, PA 16802
Contact Name
Contact Phone 814-863-5911
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Levinas: a merciless Ethics

Empathy, sympathy, and even compassion, are, in different ways, at the core of recent thought in ethics – ethics understood as attention payed to the Other. It is tempting to associate Levinas with this tendency as he once wrote that compassion is ‘the supreme ethical principle’. Yet, strictly speaking, ethics, as Levinas formulated it, is merciless – merciless to the Other and even more merciless to the Self who tries to abide it, (not to mention how merciless the Levinasian text is for its readers.) I will show how Levinas can be at the same time and without contradiction the thinker of a merciless ethics and the thinker who proposes 'compassion' as a core principle for ethics, and I will do so by highlighting the radical renewal of the meaning of compassion in his work.

François-David Sebbah

François-David Sebbah headshotFrançois-David Sebbah is professor of contemporary moral philosophy at the Université de Paris Ouest Nanterre La Défense. He  was Directeur de Programme at the Collège International de Philosophie and for many years at the Université de Technologie de Compiègne. His research is rooted in the so-called french phenomenology and post-phenomenology with a focus on ethics and contemporaneity. He is also interested in philosophy and technics and in the intersection of phenomenology and the cognitive sciences. His recent publications include Testing the Limit : Derrida, Henry, Levinas and the Phenomenological Tradition (Stanford University Press, 2012), Qu’est-ce que la technoscience ? (Encre Marine/ Les Belles Lettres, 2010) and Levinas et le contemporain. Les préoccupations de l’heure (Les Solitaires intempestifs, 2009).

Co-funded by “Programme de recherche TTH (Technologies et Traces de l'Homme), projet soutenu par la Région Picardie et le FEDER, Université de Technologie de Compiègne.”