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Meet a can of meat: on Lévinasian ethics and non-human faces
Örebro universitet, Akademin för humaniora, utbildning och samhällsvetenskap. (HumAnimal Group)ORCID iD: 0000-0001-9902-1191
2009 (English)Conference paper, Presentation (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

In this paper, I show how nonhuman animals can challenge anthropocentric theoretical reflection only by their gaze. According to the central social psychological thought figure, humans become the individual beings they are in the eyes of others. What happens when those others are nonhuman animals? Instead I show that many social philosophers focusing on the encounter face-to-face have a peculiar fascination for nonhuman animals; it is as if nonhuman animals quietly call attention to themselves as soon as philosophers begin their meditations. In the paper, I especially focus on Emmanuel Lévinas phenomenology of the face. For Lévninas, the meeting face to face is prior to all other forms of sociality. When another being respond to your existence, you become someone in the very invitation to speak. The invitation to speak entails a responsibility to respond and confirm the existence of the other, and therefore, ethics is intimately intertwined with the process of perceiving a notion of self and the meeting face-to-face. While Lévinas argues that we never can decide in advance who has a face and who has not, and that human beings may be bereaved of their faces, Lévinas is not ready to grant a face to a nonhuman animal. This has raised a discussion whether Lévinas is indeed consistent with his own thinking. I show that Lévinas position in relation to nonhuman animals does not follow from his discussion of the phenomenology of the face, but from the things he associate with the word ‘animal’, and from how he uses it to define the human subject.  I suggest that studies of social life cannot define in advance what an ‘other’ is, since the moment where we discover a new face and challenge our notion of ourselves is an integral part of social existence. Since an important aspect of Lévinas face is that it is always prior to the I, then we can never dismiss a possible face in advance. This becomes crucial in relation to nonhuman animals, since they regularly are bereaved of their faces with reference to their animality, even though many people interact face-to-face with nonhuman animals. Consequently, in order not to risk neglecting meaningful interaction, social scientists need an open stance toward possible faces, and they should start by letting nonhuman animals into social science studies in general, and social psychological studies in particular.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
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Social Psychology
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URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-261598OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-261598DiVA: diva2:850680
Meet Animal Meat, Uppsala, 21-23 May,2009
Available from: 2013-01-28 Created: 2015-09-02 Last updated: 2015-09-02

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Redmalm, David
Social Psychology

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