Honors Program

University Honors, Honors in Philosophy

Date of Award


Thesis Professor(s)

Leslie MacAvoy

Thesis Professor Department

Philosophy and Humanities

Thesis Reader(s)

Keith Green


Emmanuel Levinas views the phenomenological tradition as being predicated on an asymmetrical relationship between the self and the other in which the self possesses the power to dominate and represent the other. This leads to the reduction of the other to the same. Instead, he wants to flip this relationship in favor of the other by showing how the very qualities of alterity and infinity enable the other to resist the self’s attempts at representation. Furthermore, he conceives of an ethics in which the self is compelled to listen to the other’s command and respond accordingly. The inherent issue in such an ethics as Levinas’s is that the self is held responsible for responding to a command which it cannot represent in some meaningful way. Thus, either Levinas contradicts himself or there must be some way to respond to the other’s command prior to representation. Levinas himself says that the transcendent relationship itself involves the convergence of the self and the other through language. Language occurs prior to representation and involves the putting in common of both the self and the other’s worlds. It is an ethical donation to the Other. As well, Levinas’s idea of paternity suggests the dialogical nature of the self in the ethical relationship. Using theories of self-consciousness by Hegel, Sartre, and Meade, I show how the dialogical nature of the social self enables it to enter into a transcendent relationship without committing an act of violence.


East Tennessee State University

Document Type

Honors Thesis - Open Access

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.


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