The Priority of Ethics and the Relevance of Subjectivity

The Kindly Ones

Emmanuel Levinas directly challenges the predominant philosophical thinking (certainly as it has evolved in the West) when he insists upon ethics as first philosophy;1 when he maintains that ethics is prior to, has priority over, is ultimately more important than ontology; when he asserts that “ethics is … more ontological than ontology”.2

By ethics, Levinas does not mean the formal branch of philosophy designated by that same word; he does not mean those attempts at systematizing relational and behavioral prescriptions and proscriptions into moral theories and guidelines or theories of justice. Rather, by ethics, Levinas refers to those occasions when the impersonal and indifferent process known as being can be interrupted by an individual entity acting with non-indifference and entirely for the sake of a being other than itself, his self, or her self. This is the ethics – the event – which is prior to…

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