A Levinasian Reading of Caputo
Reading Levinas 1
Jeffrey M. Dudiak
IN HIS RECENT BOOK Against Ethics (along with its companion piece, Demythologizing Heidegger2) Professor John Caputo argues, with wit, grace, and a clarity of style rare among postmodern thinkers, that we would do well to give up on "ethics" and limit ourselves to the far more humble task of responding to "obligation."
Ethics, he claims, is too Greek, which is to say that it is the effect of a dream, a Greek-philosophical dream of perfect clarity, of unambiguous principles that would provide answers to all of life's questions regarding responsibility, such that one need not think (or at least not think much, and certainly not much about individual cases), need not struggle, but simply apply rules for behavior that would guarantee satisfactory results.On Caputo's reckoning, this Greek dream has become a nightmare for all those who are not "Greek," who do not share in the dreaming (who are not selected to play on the metaphysical "dream team"), who do not participate in the drawing up of the principles, who do not become privy to the power exerted in the name of the dream.To recognize the worth of these "others," these non-Greeks that Caputo, after Lyotard, likes to refer to as les juifs, is to recognize that things are not quite so simple as the Greek dream would have us believe, that a responsible life does not consist in the straightforward application of true ethical principles, but is a much more confusing, miscegenated mix of odds and ends, not of individuals participating in universals, but of singularities that call for a singular, rather than a "principled," response and that obligate us in their singularity. Against Ethics
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Publication information: Book title: Knowing Other-Wise:Philosophy at the Threshold of Spirituality. Contributors: James H. Olthuis - Editor. Publisher: Fordham University Press. Place of publication: New York. Publication year: 1997. Page number: Not available.
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