Levinas is another framework read in debate. The core principle of Levinas' theory is that the Other is unknowable. The Other is any agent that is not oneself. For instance, Agent A is the Other to Agent B, and Agent B is the Other to agent A. Levinas claims that since we can never fully understand the experiences of those around us, we can never fully understand who the Other is, what they think, or their experiences.

This frameworks stands in stark contrast to ones that attempt to paint a unified conception of identity. For instance, a Kantian framework would say that all agents are bound together by rationality, but Levinas would argue that even if one could prove themself a rational agent, it would be impossible to verify that others are rational, too.

The next premise in the syllogism is that since we can never fully understand the Other, we must not attempt to totalize them. Totalizing the Other would be treating them based on some predefined characteristic. For instance, seeing somebody wearing glasses and assuming that they are therefore smart would be an instance of totalizing the Other – treating them upon the basis of some characteristic. Levinas argues that totalization is itself violent, since it imposes false characteristics onto Other agents that are necessarily false. Therefore, the standard of this framework is often rejecting the totalization of the Other.

This framework has interesting interactions with Kritiks, especially those that make ontology claims because any ontological claim is inherently a claim that attempts to understand the characteristics of other agents. In this sense, the framework is strategic to employ against Kritiks.


An introduction to Levinas

The Levinas Reader

Sample Cases

JF21 - AC - Levinas.docx