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The aim of my presentation is going to be critical reflection on Emmanuel Levinasʾ concept of responsibility. The centre of discussion will be the French philosopher’s final work: Otherwise than Being or Beyond Essence. The conception of substitution as total and boundless sacrifice to the Other, expressed in this work, seems almost impossible to carry out in practice. The hyperbolic character of Levinas’ thought, which is pointed out by Paul Ricoeur and other thinkers, seems to situate an agent in an unreal and ideal world of good as the foundation of Levinas’ philosophy. The “ethical language” postulated by Levinas also seems to be highly problematic. On the one hand, the conception of French philosopher is strongly normative and idealistic. On the other hand, the concept of the Other as one who has a face forces so to speak reflection on the practical dimension of this thought. Paradoxically, a practitioner becomes largely helpless in the face of the concept of Other. Starting from the concept of Levinas, I plan to critically consider his proposals in the context of today's discussions on responsibility contained in Dieter Birnbacherʾs and Hans Jonasʾ works. In addition, I will use some of the descriptions of Bruno Latour to build a context for contemporary discussion about responsibility. The presentation will be divided into three parts. In the first part I introduce Levinas’ concept of responsibility. I will focus on issues such as: substitution, subjectivity, the concept of the Other and Otherness as LʾAutre and LʾAltérité, on the idea of the face of the Other, on “ethical language”, and the concept of anarchy [the good as a sort of anarchy]. In the second part I am going to concentrate on the consequences of Levinas' philosophy. Firstly, the category of the Other can be open to interpretation. In Birnbacherʾs works the Other may be identified with nature or with future generations, for which we should be responsible today - despite the fact that we do not know their faces. Secondly, Jonas recognizes knowledge as the primary duty of a responsible agent, because it allows one to predict the consequences of present actions. He draws attention to responsibility towards a potential agent in the sense of successive generations, for which currently existing entities should take responsibility. Levinas does not mention knowledge, and this seems to be the weak point of the whole concept. Jonas formulates the imperative: “Act so that the effects of your action are compatible with the permanence of genuine human life”. At the normative level, he also implies the idea of man (an ontology of man) as an ontological imperative, without which the concept of responsibility and obligation would be incomprehensible. In opposition to the idea of man, he poses nature as a total agent, to which man has duties due to the normative character of the idea of man and the biosphere as a whole - a life environment for coming generations. Thirdly, Latour proposes the concept of actors/actants representing the result of human and non-human factors. His project of “political ecology” is meant to change current thinking, which is based on dualistic assumptions and anthropologisation of the world in the direction of a dynamic process, where the responsibility shifts from man-entity onto actors and actants. The terminology proposed by Latour and his descriptions can significantly enrich the debate on responsibility. In the third part, I will summarize all contemporary arguments on the concept of responsibility. I am going to attempt to sort out the arguments and derive the implications of all the mentioned postulates.    

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Marta Szabat 2988
Scientific production

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