Volume 4, Issue 2-1, April 2016, Page: 5-12
The Enigma of Ethical Responsiveness: A Philosophical Perspective
Augusta Benda Hofmeyr, Department of Philosophy, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa
Received: Nov. 30, 2015;       Accepted: Jan. 15, 2016;       Published: May 13, 2016
DOI: 10.11648/j.hss.s.2016040201.12      View  4739      Downloads  134
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.
Ethics, Ethical Responsiveness, Ethical Responsibility, Ethical Action, Levinas
To cite this article
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. doi: 10.11648/j.hss.s.2016040201.12
Copyright © 2016 Authors retain the copyright of this article.
This article is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/) which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Aristotle. Nicomachean Ethics, trans. Roger Crisp. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; 2000.
Gillon, R. “Utilitarianism”, in British Medical Journal (Clinical Research Edition). 1985; 290: 1411-1413. PubMed PMID: 3922515; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC1415603.
Dolan, P. “Utilitarianism and the Measurement and Aggregation of Quality-Adjusted Life years”, in Health Care Anal. 2001; 9 (1): 65-76. PubMed PMID: 11372576.
Gandjour, A. & Lauterbach, K. W. “Utilitarian Theories Reconsidered: Common Misconceptions, More Recent Developments, and Health Policy Implications”, in Health Care Anal. 2003; (3): 229-44. PubMed PMID: 14708935.
Jamieson, D. Singer and His Critics. Malden, MA: Blackwell; 1999.
Singer, P. A. The Life You Can Save: Acting Now to End World Poverty. New York, NY: Random House.; 2009.
Singer, P. A. Animal Liberation. New York: Harper Collins; 1975.
Singer, P. A. Rethinking Life and Death: The Collapse of Our Traditional Values. New York: St. Martin's Griffin; 1995.
Singer, P. A. Practical Ethics. Second Edition. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press; 2011.
Kass, L. R. “The Wisdom of Repugnance”, in The New Republic. 1997; 216: 17 26. (Online: http://www.people.umass.edu/jaklocks/Phil164/kass.doc).
Howard, J. “The Moral Status of the Human Embryo According to Peter Singer: Individuality, Humanity, and Personhood”, in Linacre Q. 2005; 72(3): 212-28. PubMed PMID: 16317845.
Roache, R. & Clarke, S. “Bioconservatism, Bioliberalism, and the Wisdom of Reflecting on Repugnance, in Monash Bioethical Review. 2009; 28 (1): 4.1-21. PubMed PMID: 19839275.
Doyle, D. J. “Should Logic Trump Intuition in Bioethical Discourse? Contrasting Peter Singer and Leon Kass”, in Ethics in Biology, Engineering and Medicine. 2011; 2: 1-9.
Kant, I. Grundlegung zur Metaphysik der Sitten/Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, reference to the Academie edition, trans. Paton, H. J. The Moral Law. London: Hutchinson; 1948.
Kant, I. Die Metaphysik der Sitten/Metaphysics of Morals (published separately as Doctrine of Right and the Doctrine of Virtue), trans. Gregor, M. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press; 1964.
Beauchamp, T. & Childress, J. Principles of Biomedical Ethics. Oxford: Oxford University Press; 2001.
Clouser, K. D. & Gert, B. “A Critique of Principlism”, in Journal of Medical Philosophy. 1990; 15(2): 219-236. doi: 10.1093/jmp/15.2.219
Levinas, E. Ethics and Infinity. Conversations with Philippe Nemo, trans. Richard A. Cohen. Pittsburg, Pennsylvania: Duquesne University Press; 1985.
Levinas, E. Is it Righteous To Be? Interviews with Emmanuel Levinas, ed. Jill Robbins. Stanford: Stanford University Press; 2001.
Burggraeve, R. “Affected by the Face of the Other. The Levinasian Movement from the Exteriority to the Interiority of the Infinite”, in Dialegesthai. Rivista telematica di filosofia. 2009; 11. Available online: http://mondodomani.org/dialegesthai/ ISSN 1128-5478 Accessed 30 November 2015.
Hofmeyr, A. B. (Ed.) Radical Passivity. Rethinking Ethical Agency in Levinas. Dordrecht, NL: Springer. Book Series: Library of Ethics and Applied Philosophy; 2009. ISBN: 978-1-4020-9346-3
Hofmeyr, A. B. “Radical Passivity: Ethical Problem or Solution?”, in Hofmeyr, A. B. (Ed.) 2009: 25-49.
Hofmeyr, A. B. “From Activity to Radical Passivity: Rethinking Ethical Agency in Levinas”, in Monokl. 2010; 8-9: 97-117.
Levinas, E. Collected Philosophical Papers, trans. Alphonso Lingis. Pittsburg, Pennsylvania: Duquesne University Press; 1987.
Levinas, E. Alterity and Transcendence, trans. Michael B. Smith. New York: Columbia University Press; 1999.
Hutchens, B. C. Levinas. A Guide for the Perplexed. New York: Continuum; 2004.
Browse journals by subject