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Title: A Reciprocal Asymmetry?
Subtitle: Levinas's Ethics Reconsidered
Author(s): TATRANSKÝ, Tomáš
Journal: Ethical Perspectives
Volume: 15    Issue: 3   Date: September 2008   
Pages: 293-307
DOI: 10.2143/EP.15.3.2033153

Abstract :
The conception of the unconditional, irreducible, and irreversible asymmetry of the relationship between I and the Other is one of the crucial issues of Levinas’s ethical metaphysics. Since it is precisely in the name of the asymmetry that reciprocity as an ethics-founding principle is excluded from Levinas’s conceptual framework (in spite of Levinas’s enigmatic expression in Otherwise than Being: “‘thanks be to God,’ I am the Other for the others”), many scholars have judged his ethics as unfeasible. This article aims to examine the key points of the debate about the Levinasian conception of asymmetry, to go, eventually, beyond Levinas, in an attempt to re-address the following questions: Is there a “transcendental symmetry” (Derrida) as a basis of the ethical asymmetry? Can we reconcile asymmetry and reciprocity? Does the requirement of mutual recognition touch the Other’s asymmetrical transcendence, as Ricoeur suggests? Finally, the article presents a conception of “asymmetrical reciprocity” that focuses notably on the reality of friendship and of gift, a conception seen as the basis of the relationship characterized by gratitude, generosity, and desire for communion.

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