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ETHICS WITH A HUMAN FACE

Eduardo Jose E. Calasanz


I was made to understand that at the beginning of this workshop,
Dr. Edna Manlapaz, the head of the Technical Committee of the CHED
Program for the Humanities talked about Ethics with a Human Face. I
think it is but proper that we end with a philosopher who has made a
reflection on the experience of the encounter with the human face as the
starting point and focus of his philosophizing.
Emmanuel Levinas was born on 1906 and died on Christmas Day,
1995. He was born in Lithuania at the time when Lithuania, one of the
Baltic States, was still part of the Russian Empire. His first language was
Russian. He grew up on the Russian classics and then studied in France in
the University of Strasbourg where he worked in the theory of intuition in
Edmund Husserl. He was one of the first philosopher in France to work on
Edmund Husserl. He was even able, in fact, to do a semester with Martin
Heidegger at the University of Freiburg im Breisgau in Germany. He
settled in Paris in 1930 and became a French citizen. He spent the years of
the Second World War as a prisoner of war while the rest of his family
was assassinated in Lithuania. Only his wife and daughter survived.
I would like to do this expos of a very complex philosophy in four
moments or four parts. The first part is the starting point. Levinas whole
reflection begins in a concrete situation where violence is the order of the
day. There is violence both on the individual, on the interpersonal, and on
the social levels. The social level includes both the national and
international arenas. Violence is a datum of experience and Levinas
situates this situation of violence in what he calls, following Spinoza, the
desire of every being to persevere in its being. The Jewish-Dutch
seventeenth-century philosopher Spinoza, a contemporary of Descartes,
speaks of what he calls the connatus essendithat every being by its very
being desires to remain, desires to conserve itself, in its being, to
persevere in being. It is this act of self-preservation or auto-conservation
that defines itself as a being. Levinas interprets Heidegger following this
same line when Heidegger speaks of Dasein as the only being for whom its
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being-itself is in question, its being-itself is an issue, and that therefore,


Dasein tries to be itself authentically. It is this movement towards
authentic self-being that defines the very being of Dasein. For Levinas,
both this idea of connatus essendi and Heideggers notion of authentic
being betray an essentially centripetal movement. In other words, the
concern of the individual being is turned towards itself. In this centripetal
movement there is a certain allergy towards the other. In other words,
the attitude towards what is not-self, what is not ako, what is not the
individual self is one of allergy. The allergy takes different forms: fear,
insecurity, aggressivity. All of these normally intertwine. And it is this,
Levinas say, which defines our own natural attitude towards the rest of
the world, the rest of being, the rest of the universe. It is an allergy
towards the other as Other. It is our natural attitude, to use the term of
Husserl.
Focusing now on the human experience, we tend to see that the
natural, the radical goal of all our lives, our activities, our movements is
that of enjoyment. Without taking any moral judgment, what Levinas is
trying to do is to engage in a phenomenological description. He is not
saying that this is good or bad, but simply, This is what we experience,
what happens. This is not yet the moment of moral judgment. Our goal is
one of enjoyment and what characterizes enjoyment precisely, is the
intensification of the centripetal movement. In other words, in enjoyment,
ultimately, whatever we are enjoying, we are enjoying ourselves. For
example, you just had merienda. I dont know if the merienda was
delicious or if you enjoyed it, but think of a merienda that you would
enjoy. Think, for example, when you enjoy a ripe guyabano. When you
plunge your teeth into that guyabano, when you suck the juice out of the
guyabano flesh in your mouth, you enjoy. One is enjoying the guyabano,
but ultimately, Levinas says, one is enjoying oneself. When one is enjoying
the fact of enjoying the guyabano, one is enjoying ones maintenance in
being, ones life, ones identity, the fact that Im enjoying and not enjoying,
and the like. So, on the level of purely sensible enjoyment of the senses,
you have this basically centripetal movement.
This centripetal movement is also found in the experience of
possession which at its origin is simply the postponement of enjoyment.
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In other words, you have something which you can enjoy but which you
need not necessarily be enjoying immediately although its there at hand,
ready to be enjoyed. Once more, in any kind of possession, the orientation
is towards the self, towards the I.
This orientation towards the self holds true even when you come
to an experience like work. At first hand, work seems to confront me with
an Otherthere is something which is not myself. Take not that Levinas
uses work here in a very general senseany kind of action which seeks
to transform matter. It can be as simple as making a shoeone of
Aristotles favorite examples. When making shoes, the shoemaker
transforms leather into a human artifact. It could also be the work of
building a house which means domesticating a certain placewhat was
once simply an empty lot full of cogon grass is now defined humanly, is
now defined according to human needs in accordance with the
satisfaction of certain wants, certain desires, so that you no longer simply
have an empty field full of cogon where nature goes its own way, as it
were, but that space will now be re-defined, will be transformed according
to my ends, my goals, my needs. In other words, the Other will always be
in function of certain goals, certain ends I have in mind. The activity that I
call work is the transformation of matter according to my own image
and likeness, according to my own goals, according to my ideals, according
to my categories. This is what we do with an empty space, a vacant lot,
wood, stone, leather or any other thing when we work on them. We
transform, and thats the dignity and greatness of work precisely. Work
transforms nature into human nature, as it were, into a nature that is now
redefined by certain human intentionalities. But once more, in that
experience, the origin of meaning which imposes or gives meaning will
always be the self.
Even when we, Levinas says, come to the realm of thought, of
thinking or knowing, there is a movement of immanence. Those of us who
have a scholastic background would be familiar with this idea. What is
otherthis chair, this experience, this phenomenon, this object in nature,
by the act of knowing them becomes in me, becomes immanent. If one
were a Kantian, for example, one would say that ultimately, what
constitutes the object of knowing is its being situated within the
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categories: the intuitions of sensibility of space and time, the categories of


understanding, causality, finality, relationship and others, the three
transcendental ideals of totalitythe self, the world and God. Once I can
situate anything within that system, then it becomes an object, then I can
say, I know. Once more, its always a process of rendering what is other
as immanent, what is other the same, what is not me, ultimately me.
Levinas uses the metaphor of ingestion or eating which, I think, is
very apt. what happens when you eat, for example, spaghetti? Once you
have ingested that spaghetti, that spaghetti is broken down into certain
basic elements: carbohydrates, fats, and other components and then it
becomes part of your body. What began as other ends up becoming part of
us and what does not become part of us, we eliminate. But the whole
process is one of making the other, what is not-self, not-I, ultimately self, I.
Thus, Levinas says, it is this metaphor of eating, of ingestion, that
you find in the experiences of enjoyment, possession, work, and thinking.
It were as if youre still working with an other but the whole point is
precisely to reduce the alterity, the otherness of that Other, such that you
find, to use the Hegelian formula, yourself in what is not-self. In other
words, the point is to be at home, to be in ones own dwelling in a foreign
land, in what is other. It is to make what is foreign, precisely domestic. So
thats the first pointLevinas situates the whole phenomenon of violence
as ultimately rooted in this natural attitude, in this natural phenomenon.
Second point. There is however, he says, an experience which
seems to break loose or break away from this generalized experience of
ingestion, of allergy towards the other, of immanentization, to use a
technical term which means rendering immanent what is transcendent.
He locates this particular experience in what he calls the banal fact of
conversation.
Incidentally, maybe I can refer to the two texts I suggested for
your reading. There are two texts: an easy text and a difficult text. The
easy text is the short one: Spirit and Violence. It was written in 1950-1,
(and published in English as one of the essays in Difficult Freedom: Essays
of Judaism [Baltimore: The John Hopkins Univ. Press, 1990]), an early text
of Levinas. The other one, a later text, was given as a lecture in 1967 and
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published in 1968. Its longer, a bit more difficult, more dense, but I find it
more foundational. I would not recommend the second text, the difficult
text, for our students. That would be really more for the teacher and for
the graduate student of philosophy, but I think the first one, the short easy
text, would be accessible to an undergraduate student.
This experience of conversation, of simply speaking, is what the
analytical philosophers call the speech situation. In this speech situation,
in any kind of speech situation, you have at least three elements or three
poles and ones reflection can focus on any one of these poles. You have
the pole of the matter being talked about (pinag-uusapan). You have the
pole of the person doing the speaking (kumakausap) as well as the
interlocutor, the one spoken to (kinakausap). Levinass whole reflection
on the speech situation focuses on the interlocutor. What does it mean to
have to face someone? This is what happens when you speak to
someoneyou face someone. What is that experience all about? Here, the
focus is precisely on the face-to-face relation, on what he calls the vocative
situation. It is not so much the talking about the interlocutor as another
subject mattertalking of or talking about the interlocutor, but the
focus is the talking to. What happens there in that vocative situation, in
that talking, in that speaking to? It is a speaking to which cannot be
reduced to a speaking about, although in our discourse we can talk
about the other spoken to as spoken about. I may be engaged in
another conversation, for example, with Dr. Ibana. I can talk about this
conversation with someone else, for example with Rannie and therefore I
can talk about Rainier Ibana, but the Rainier Ibana I am talking about to
Rannie is not exactly the same as the Rainier Ibana I am talking to insofar
as I am talking to him. In other words, that Rainier Ibana who is my
interlocutor is irreducible to the Rainier Ibana I can talk about to other
persons or even to Dr. Ibana himself.
Focusing now on that vocative situation, Levinas says we have or
can have the experience of the other as otherthe experience of the
radical alterity or the otherness of the other, where the other is not
reduced, not transformed into an object. The other is not an object of my
enjoyment, of my possession, of my work, even an object of my thought,
but precisely is allowed to be there as other. At any point, and we shall go
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back to this, I can begin to talk about it, reduce him to an object. This is
where we shall have to reflect a little whilewhat this letting the other be
other precisely means. We shall see that it partakes of the nature of a
decision, an option. Its not something that is automatic.
To see the other as other, Levinas says, is to see him or her in his
or her face. Levinas uses the notion of the face as a sort of figure,
something along the structure of metonymy. In other words, a part is
substituted for a whole. Its like when you say for example, thirty sails set
out instead of saying thirty ships. The sail stands for the whole shipa
part stands for the whole. In a similar fashion when he speaks of the face
as a rhetorical figure, a metonymy (the part is substituted for a whole), he
speaks of the whole personthe person as person, the loob. The notion of
loob itself is also a metonymya part is substituted for the whole. The
loobwhat is most personal for a person is not just a part of a person but
stands for the whole. So, to meet the other as other is to meet him or her
in the face. Levinas calls this encounter of the face an epiphany. He uses
the term epiphany which simply means manifestation. The Greek verb
means to manifest, to show. Something is shown, something is seen,
but he uses the word epiphany precisely to emphasize a certain
suddenness to it. In other words, its not something that can be arrived at
as a conclusion of a certain method, of a certain procedure. It is seen in the
way one looks at or studies a poem, for example. Once can read the poem,
analyze its structure and rhetorical devices following a procedure but
there will always be that element which is extra-procedural which doesnt
mean that the procedures are not important with the analysis of the
paraphrasing, the metaphors and others, but there will always be a certain
gap and that gap can only be bridged by a leap. You take for example an
abstract, nonrepresentational, nonfigurative painting. You cant make
heads or tails out of it, in fact, there is no head or tail, its just splashes of
color, a play of light and shadow but at a certain point, it makes sense. At a
certain point you can even begin to like it. Of course if you have to explain
it, if you were an aesthetics student and you have to write a paper about it
in class, youd have to bluff a lot. You have to use categories that you have
learned, but in that moment itself of the seeing, the moment itself of
epiphany there will always be something sudden, something unprepared,
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something even uncalled-for in that event. The experience of the Other in


his or her own face is similar to this epiphany. It is when one discovers the
unicity of someone, the uniqueness of someone, as someone really
particular. For example, you face a number of students as you lecture
before a class of fifty or sixty. You may know the students names but
when you see them, Levinas says, you see them obliquely, always
through something, always through a categorythat category of
student. You see them always through a certain representation or a
certain system. The system could be sociological, academic, economic, and
others. It could even be a physical representation, in other words, the
system of those bodies that occupy a particular space. You can even see
them as being fair-skinned or dark-skinned, stub noses or long nose, and
the like. We try to domesticate them by seeing them as through a category.
But when you begin to lecture and you begin to notice your students, lets
say, one of your students who accosts you after class, he strikes you as a
student. He is a student who wants to ask a question, to clarify or maybe
has a complaint but already you that category and you meet that person
through the prism of that representation, that category, that system. This
is the natural thing. In other words, we encounter that Other only in so far
as he or she would fit into a certain horizon of expectations, a certain
systematization of social relationships, certain categories that we have
already prepared ourselves for. You board a jeep and you experience the
same thing. You take a look at the person in front of youmy fellow
jeepney passenger. You just a bodyyou get to notice the pimples; you
get to notice the teeth; how big the nostrils are, that sort of thing. This we
can do to while away time because we are bored in traffic. But at a certain
point it can happen that the person becomes for us someone. Sometimes
it can take place in a very embarrassing wayyoure in the jeep, staring at
the person in front of you, without any romantic or erotic intentions, you
simply look. You notice the way the hair is done or youre even amused
because his or her teeth are not straight. But notice, once you do that, one
can speak of treating the Other as object, treating the Other as fitting
within my system of representations, within a category. At a certain point,
however, it can happen that youre the one being looked at. The person
will notice that youre looking at him or her and then start to look at you
who are looking at him or her. When he or she looks at you, theres a
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moment of embarrassment. What happens when youre embarrassed in


that way? When that person looks at you, that person is no longer simply a
collection of certain physical details, some of which are funny or
interesting but becomes a new center. In other words, theres a certain decentering. At first, youre the one looking. You have here the whole
analysis of Sartrethe gaze, the stare. The other person is somehow
pinned down under your stare and he or she is wriggling like an insect
pinned downscrutinized, played around with. Youre the center. Youre
the one in control of the situation. But if youre the one looked at, youre
no longer the center. Its the other whos now the center. Its the other
whos now in control because youve been embarrassed. So notice that,
once more, there is no procedure here: step one, step two, step three, and
then you have a sort of paradigm shift. The paradigm shift which occurs is
not the product of certain steps. It occurs, as most paradigm shifts occur,
with a certain element of unpreparedness, of uncalled-for-ness. The
experience of the epiphany of the face is of that nature and this is where
Levinass phenomenology becomes a moral discourse at this point.
Levinas says that this perception of the face, this experience of the
epiphany of the face is not simply a perceptual experience but a moral
one. In other words, its not just an object of perception. The Other is not
simply an object of perception, therefore, to perceive the face of the Other
is to have new perception as it were, but it is a qualitatively different
experience. It is a moral experience which he summarizes rather rapidly,
of course, but in the commandment You shall not kill! In other words he
says that to see the face of the Other is to hear the commandment, You
shall not kill! This commandment is a metonymy, a figure of speech, in
other words, a part is substituted for a whole. In other words, when he
speaks of the You shall not kill what hes talking about is that whole
range of moral imperatives which command respect for the other, for the
life of the Other, which commands care for the Other. So too, the
perception of the face, the epiphany of the face, he says, is a moral
experience. The visual and the auditory metaphors are combined. To see
the face is to hear the commandment, You shall not kill! You shall respect!
You shall care! You shall be responsible for. But more than that, more
than just being a moral experience, Levinas says that it is the locus of
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origination. In other words, this is where the moral experience begins


the experience that there is an Other whom I cannot reduce to my
enjoyment, to my possession, to my work, or even my thinking. So not
only is it a moral experience but also the locus of origination, the place
where the moral experience originates, and therefore where the whole
panoply of moral categories, of imperative, duty, norm and the like would
ultimately take root. Notice once more, parenthetically, hes not making
norms here but what hes trying to show is where the norms take root.

to mean that hes worthy of respect, but that is not what Levinas means
when he speaks of commanding respect. For Levinas theres really a
commandment. Theres a certain height from which he commands but at
the same time, he says, a certain humility. There is a certain poverty.
Dukha siya. Yung pagiging dukha niya, sa pagiging kataas-taasan niya,
nagtatalaban. He commands precisely in his poverty, in his misery, in his
weakness and he is weak precisely in his height, in his dignity, in his
ability to command respect.

I will now try to relate this to what youve already seen before,
though I wont do the whole survey that everybody has seen, such as
Thomas notion of natural law or even for example, Kants notion of duty.
One can ask, but where does one experience that? What area in human
experience can we see, not just know, not just understand, but really see,
experience yung may kagat, what Kant means when he speaks of duty, of
the imperative, of that I must do this because I ought to do it and simply
because I ought to do it not because it will make me happy, not because it
is useful, but because I simply ought to do it? Where does one experience
that? Even this notion of the natural law, the voice of reason, our
participation in eternal reason, the way Thomas puts it, where does one,
or can one experience that? Thomas doesnt speak of the experiential
locus. He takes it for granted, I suppose. Even Kant doesnt speak of the
specific loci, the different places, different situations where once can
really hear the categorical imperative. And I think this is one way of
understanding what Levinas is trying to point out here. He is not trying to
edict norms, but hes trying to show that whatever norms one follows,
what-ever moral principles one adheres to, it is in this experience where
those norms are ultimately rooted because it is here where they are
heard, where they are experienced.

One example I often give to my students when we talk about this


experience is very culture-bound, but I think ones culture is a good place
precisely to begin. For example, when you have to refuse someone who
begs. For example, you are in a jeepney that reaches an intersection with
the red stoplight on. So the jeepney stops. At that moment someone
approaches the jeepney, for example, an old woman from the Cordilleras.
When she approaches you, for one reason or another, you refuse to give
her money. You dont want to give because you do not happen to have
loose change. What you have are peso bills. You do not want to give a big
amount, for instance, twenty pesos, and so you look in your pocket for
smaller amounts, say one-peso or fifty-centavo coins. Or in principle, you
dont give because you suspect theres a racket behind this. The first one
to profit from it would be the policeman in the corner. Or you dont give
because you fear that the one given will just buy anything with the money,
or worse, use the money to buy drugs. So in principle, you will not give.
But in our culture, what are we taught when we are to refuse? Patawarin
po, patawad po. When we reflect on that, why do we have to beg
forgiveness? Its not given an obligation, I mean, if ever you give, its out of
the superabundance of your heart and your pocket. She does not have any
claim to my heart and pocket. And yet we say, Patawad po. It is as if you
this ambiguity that in the very misery, in the very poverty of that other,
THAT itself commands a certain response, and when the response is not
adequate, and it will always be inadequate, then there is that need to
express, patawad po, patawarin po. We say this because the response will
always be inadequate precisely to that call. So thats the second point. The
epiphany of the face which begins in the simple fact of conversation, the
banal fact of conversation, but wherein the face is experienced in an

The Other who appears in his face appears ambiguously, Levinas


says, because he appears both in his height and his humility. There are
always two dimensions when the Other appears to me. There is an aspect
of, what I would translate as, katas-taasanmas mataas siya sa akin.
There is a certain asymmetry. Were not equal, mas mataas siya. Thats
why he can command respect, and when we say command respect, we
mean it in a literal fashion. When we say, he commands respect, it seems
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epiphany where this epiphany is not simply perceptual but moral,


meaning to say, not only is it a moral experience but also the experience of
an imperative, the experience of an interdiction, You shall not kill! You
shall respect! is also the locus of origination of all moral experience. It is
where the moral norms are heard.
Third point. We were already beginning to talk about this. This
response ultimately, to the call of the Other, his face, is one of
responsibility. Once more, this responsibility is not defined in all its detail
in the works of Levinas. But he gives certain indications. He tries to
express this responsibility for the Other in two different ways that
correspond to this two kinds of writings. He has writings which are
philosophical and which he wants to be taken as strictly philosophical,
taken within the European philosophical tradition. Then he has another
set of texts which are always published elsewhere. He never mixes
publishers so that there would be a clear distinction. The other writings
are what he comments on scriptures and on the Jewish commentaries of
scripture, if you want, more religious writings. But he tries to keep them
separately even to the point of having two different publishers for his
(what he calls) philosophical writings and (what he calls) his more
explicitly religious writings.
He tries to express this responsibility for the Other using two
phrases which are very current in French. In his philosophical texts, he
speaks of the, Me voice! It means Narito Ako!the Here I am!
experience. But in some of his commentaries on the Old Testament, he
identifies this Narito Ako! with the experience of Isaiah 6. Here, Isaiah
sees the vision of the glory of the Lord in the temple and upon seeing this
vision, the seraphim sings Holy, holy, holy! Then Isaiah experiences, first
of all, his unworthinessI am a sinner. Then he is cleansed by a burning
coal, and once he is cleansed, the first thing he says is Here I am! Send
me. Its the Here I am, send me experience. In other words, the
experience of, Here I am to be sent. Here I am responsible.
Sometimes this responsibility will not be concretized effectively.
For example, your mother is on the brink of death and youre beside her.
You tell her, Im here, Mama. But theres nothing you can really do, shes
going to die anyway. You dont have the cure, nor the medicine. You
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cannot offer any help. But you still say, Here I am. O kaya naman, meron
kang kapatidnagwawala, napa-drugs, nakabuntis ng dalawa, sabaysabay, at hindi niya alam kung paano pananagutan ang ginawa niya. And
then he comes to you since youre his older brother or sister. You do not
have any solution to his problems. Arent there problems in life which do
not have any solution at all? You may not have any solution but the
response hes looking for is simply to hear you say, Here I am. Youre not
alone. I may not have the solution, but, hey, I am here. This responsibility
for the other could be as minimal as that, without focusing on any or
resulting in any specific solution but simply, the responsibility manifested
in that Narito ako.
The other phrase that Levinas uses besides that Narito ako! is
Aprs vous. Ikaw muna. Its a formula of politeness. For example when you
go out of the door and theres a lady beside you, you say, Ikaw muna,
Kayo muna. The whole point here is that the Other is always ahead. It is
this, he says, which renders sacrifice possible. Reciprocity is not the
ultimate in moral life. Sacrifice is possible. If reciprocity is ultimate then
there would be no more room for sacrifice. Sacrifice would then be absurd
or it would even be immoral, but it is this notion of the Other as ahead, the
Other as more important somehow, that renders the very notion and
experience of sacrifice possible.
This responsibility however, for the Other, is not just an attitude,
it is also something very concrete. Levinas stresses the economic
character of this responsibility. Its the opening not just of ones heart
(loob), he says, but its also the opening of ones palm and furthermore, of
ones pocket. You therefore work, but its not just for the opening of ones
palms, its also the opening of ones homethe whole experience of
hospitality, of making the Other dwell in ones own dwelling place.it is the
opening of ones pocket. In other words, there is an economic dimension
to this, and very often he would quote at this point no longer the Jewish
scriptures but even the Christian scriptures, Matthew 25, the scene of the
Last Judgment. In other words, if there are norms to be spoken of here,
these would be the norms of feeding the hungry, giving drink to the
thirsty, clothing the naked, and the like. These point to the economic

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dimension of responsibility. Thus, this responsibility for the other


Narito ako. Ikaw munais economic.
Finally, for Levinas, this responsibility for the other is also infinite.
In other words, responsibility is without end. This means that my
response will always be inadequate. An analogy to this perhaps, is our
own experience of the utang na loob. An utang na loob can never be
repaid. Kapag tumanaw ka ng utang na loob, ito ay habambuhay. Once you
have acknowledged utang na loob, in a way, its for life. It can never be
repaid because no matter how much you repay, that payment would be
inadequate. So, in a similar fashion, he quotes Alyosha from Dostoevskys
Brothers Karamasov, who says, Each one is responsible for all and before
all, and I more than any other. In other words, to speak of responsibility
is first of all to speak of my responsibility. It is not first of all, to gauge the
responsibility of the Other. It is not even, first of all, to compare
responsibilities. It is first of all, to acknowledge my responsibility for the
Other. In other words, there will always be something asymmetrical or to
put it bluntly and crudely, laging lugi ako, because I always would at
least an iota more of responsibility for the Other.
The two images he uses to picture this infinite responsibility for
the Other are the image of Atlas, the Titan who is condemned to bear the
whole world on his shoulders and the image of the Suffering Servant of
Isaiah 53. The Suffering Servant is the one who takes the place of others,
the one who bears the suffering of others by the mystery of substitution.
In that long and difficult second text I gave you, the one on substitution, he
stresses that responsibility goes to the point of substitution. In other
words, being responsible for an Other goes to the point of taking upon
myself even the pain and the suffering that the Other deserves. Once more,
it is this that renders sacrifice possible: the sacrifice of a friend laying
down his life for a friend, the possibility of parents spending their whole
lives for their children. Notice that once more, responsibility is not
measured in this way by freedom but freedom is invested by
responsibility.
The last point. The point which he has least developed, the most
incomplete part, if you want, of the work of Levinas, is where he speaks of
the third part. So far, we have always been speaking of the face-to-face
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relationako at ikaw. But the face-to-face situation is not the only


situation that we are in. in other words, in the world, its not just you and
me. There are others. Its not just a question of I and the Other but there
are also other Others. There other Others are related to one another in
very well defined relationships: relationships of power, relationships of
need. These are defined by the economy, by the political structures, by the
social structures, by cultural structures such as family, school,
neighborhood, state, company, etc. So what about the situation of other
Others? Since this is also part of our concrete human situation, he has
some reflections on this but once more, its the least developed aspect.
He develops his notion of the third party along two lines: first,
what I would call a horizontal line. He says that the Other is also the Other
of another, in other words, there is a third party and there is always a
third party. Hindi lang ako at ikaw, meron ding siya. Meron ding sila.
Moreover, we are together and we have to live together such that if tayo
lang dalawa, ako at ikaw, laging ikaw muna, laging lugi ako, laging mas
mataas ka, laging walang hanggang pananagutan para sa iyo. But because
we are not alone, there are also others, then I also have to take care of
myself because I have to take care of others. Thus we have to organize life
in society which means that we have to compare what is incomparable
the uniqueness of each person. Because we live in a society, we live in
structures of society, we have to weigh what cannot be weighed, we have
to compare what cannot be compared. Why? Because we are ultimately
weighing loob. We are weighing subjectivities, we are weighing persons,
we are comparing what is unique so paradoxically. But paradoxically,
thats what we have to do. We have to talk in objective terms, we have to
talk in universal terms. Paradoxically, we have to talk in universal terms
of what is unique, singular, individual, face to face. This is where, he says,
the importance of the state, the economy lies. This is the place where you
have an ethics of procedures. This is the place where you have to talk
about certain universal norms, going beyond what it particular going
beyond the face to face. But he says that all of these procedures, all of
these institutional norms, would only be validated precisely if they are
rooted in that original locus, in that original place of origin, which is the
face to face, which is the discovery of the epiphany of the Other as Other.
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So it is this third, horizontal third party that sort of corrects the


asymmetry of the original face-to-face situation. Thats just one aspect.
The other aspect of the third party, which he doesnt develop at
length is what I would call the vertical aspect. Levinas says that in my
relationship with the Other as Other I am not just relating to the Other, I
am relating to the Infinite, to make a short-cut, God. Once more, as he
remains very faithful to the millenary Jewish tradition, he says Gods face
is a trace. No one can see the face of God and live. In other words, unlike
the human other, whose face I can see, the face of God would always be a
tracebakas lang. Therefore, I cannot use that trace to turn into a
religious ideology or translate it into certain notions of responsibility,
certain norms, etc. In other words, the notion of God is the ultimate
horizon but it is a horizon which can never be objectified, which you can
either say Here and NowNarito. It will always be precisely that which is
beyond, that which escapes us, that which we can only speak of as a
tracea trace that, once identified in the context of our relationships, is
already gone. Laging yun na nga, hindi na yun. It is this which respects
ultimately the transcendence of God, otherwise we reduce God to certain
images, to certain representations, to certain categories and this is what
we call idolatry: We reduce God to an idol.

there is no answer to the question, Am I my brothers keeper? or Is my


brother my responsibility? To ask that question is already to refuse to
enter, precisely, the moral realm. It is precisely to refuse to be judged,
precisely by the Other as Other.

So, once more, just to summarize everything, the whole moral


experience for Levinas is rooted in that epiphany of the face, discovery of
the Other as Other, not as object of my enjoyment, work, possession or
even though but simply as Other. It is here where moral experience can
begin. It is here where the moral norms are first heard. It is here even, he
as far to say, where the moral principles can be problematized, precisely,
in certain tragic situations where principle and the concrete human Other
seem to clash. But it is here therefore where ethical reflection can begin, in
that concrete meeting with the human Other. It is a primitive fact. It is like
the experience of duty for Kant. Its what he calls a fact of reason. Its not
arrived at as a conclusion of a syllogism or a demonstration. Either you
see it or you dont, but as Levinas says, it is this seeing or not seeing which
defines the seeing or not seeing of good or the seeing or not seeing of evil.
It is this which defines whether one is on the side of Cain, who asks at the
end, Am I my brothers keeper? Levinas says that if you reflect on it,
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