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The gravity of nature Other-than-human others in the thought of Emmanuel Levinas

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Description: The work of Emmanuel Levinas is known as a phenomenological explication of ethical experience, but it seems that for Levinas such experience is possible only in relation to other humans. It is my contention, however, that such a restriction is unfounded and that an 'ethic of nature' can be articulated within the framework Levinas provides. The study first reviews Levinas' philosophy of nature and his ethics, and argues that his thought parallels Descartes', who regarded language as the indication of what is 'properly human.' Praising Descartes' Discourse , Levinas claims that it is only in relation to beings that speak that ethics is announced. Thus while Levinas does not take language to be an indication of the presence of reason in a being, it is taken as a phenomenal indicator of the social relation between beings. The dissertation next works towards a Levinasian environmentalism by showing how Levinas' understanding of the face, which is tied to the notion of expression, is also associated with corporeality, where it is not the other's speaking that addresses me but rather the vulnerability of the flesh . Developing this ethic of embodiment, the case is made for regarding every living being as 'other.' The study then discusses how one might articulate a sense of responsibility for non-living nature. Examining James Lovelock's "Gaia hypothesis," it is argued that Levinas understands the relation between life and the non-living in agonistic terms. Lovelock, however, promotes a view of the abiotic world as being modified by living beings such that it is 'fit' for life. This shift in thinking, it is argued, makes it possible to regard ethics as transgressing the boundaries of the living body. The dissertation concludes by exploring the question of justice. It is argued that prioritizing the claims of others can be made on the basis of differing levels of complexity, but that such prioritization must be guided by an understanding of interdependent relationality. The key features of this 'environmental justice' are a general policy of non-interference and human use of the natural world that is compatible with the sustainability of natural systems.
Language: English
Format: Degree Work