chapter  15
Justice in the Name of the Other: Levinas on Rights and Responsibility
Pages 14

In an age saturated with rights talk, Levinas’s conception of unconditional responsibility for the other is often criticized as too utopian and impossible to realize. Certainly, if we take this impossibility as an assessment about practicability, we can only agree with the conclusion. But the criticism here is about more than a practical diffi culty. What is questioned is the intelligibility of the very notion of unconditional responsibility. How can we deny that there are conditions which delimit and direct our responsibility? Responsibilities are particular terms of obligations, and obligations are contracts one enters into whereby one is required to fulfi ll specifi c demands. Moreover, taking responsibility requires one to be in a fi t condition of freedom and power to discharge one’s obligations. At least this seems to be an unassailable understanding behind our ordinary notion of responsibility. However, could there be an extraordinary, alternate notion of responsibility by which we can make Levinas’s seemingly unintelligible view of unconditional responsibility intelligible and even compelling?