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PHILOSOPHY OF THE HUMAN PERSON

University of San Agustin


AY: 2014-2015: First Semester

CHAPTER 2: INTERPERSONAL DIMENSION


Lecture 1B: The Human Person as a Social Being

Responsibility
Different Philosophers in this View
Martin BubersI-Thou Relationship

Martin Buber is an Austrian-born Israeli existentialist religious and social


philosopher. He is a professor at University of Frankfurt am Main and Hebrew University of
Jerusalem. Bubers philosophy centred on relations between the self and others; he
radically contrasted this to relations between the self and objects. He argued that
central features of our ethical, social, and religious life become unintelligible if
we understand human relations and relations to God in terms of our relations to
objects. In human relations, we respond to the presence and individuality of others in
forming joint human projects rather than seeing others as object to manipulate. His
theology understood God as the ultimate Thou. His main works are I and Thou and Paths
in Utopia.i
Levels of Human Relationship
According to Martin Buber, the world is twofold because the human attitude toward
it is twofold. This twofold attitude is reflected in the formulations IIt and IThou (or IYou).
For Buber, they are the two primary relationships between oneself and another. Buber
realized that there is a basic difference between relating to a thing or to an object that I
observe, and to a person or a Thouwho addresses me and to whose address I respond.
This is the difference between the way people usually relate to inanimate things on the
one hand and to living persons on the other. As a person is not a what but a who; a
person is a who and not a what,the person is a subject and not an object or
thing; and since the person is a subject, hence, the person is a self. The human person
according to Martin Buber may adopt two attitudes toward another person and the world.
a) I-It level of relationship
A person as well as an inanimate thing can be viewed as a thing or in Bubers
terminology an It. It can be both non-human objects and other persons, covering
everything with which the I comes into contact and uses for its own utility. This is a
relation between a user and an object of use or between an observer and an object of
observation. In the I-It level of relatedness man is treated not as a subject but
as an object or a thing. I-It is a relation of subject-to-object. This is also called a

PHILOSOPHY OF THE HUMAN PERSON

University of San Agustin


AY: 2014-2015: First Semester

relationship of monologue wherein the other party is considered in the world of


things. This is a one-sided relation, within which the I concentrates upon its own
purposes and concerns and keeps the It at a distance, where it is measured and
studied.
In this relatedness, personal commitment does not exist. In many
relationships people consider each other as mere objects.
Buber further describes the level of I-It relationship to refer to the relation
between subjects and objects; for example, between a human being and a pencil.
The human being is active, whereas the pencil is passive. This distinction is often
referred to in more philosophical language as a subjectobject relation, in which an
active subject (in this case, the human being) relates to an inactive object (in this case,
the pencil). According to Buber, the subject acts as anI, and the object as an
It. The relation between the human being and pencil could thus be described
as an IIt relation.
b) I-Thou level of relationship
Thou may be either human or not human.I-Thou is a relation of subject-tosubject.This is called a relationship of dialogue wherein unity of two beings
takes place which is characterized by mutuality and reciprocity. A transition
from I-It to I-Thou is possible from an impersonal relationship to a personal one. The IThou relationship is not an impersonal one but a personal one in as much as the I
recognizes the other as a person. Thouis not an object to be manipulated. In this
case, the I recognizes the others needs and rights as a person. Thus, the other is not
considered by the I as an object to be used but as a person who has his own
uniqueness and needs. Hence, the I respects the Thou because the I
treats the Thou not as means to an end but as having value in himself. The
I who is always conscious of himself as a who, a subject, and a self relates
to another I (Thou) who is also conscious of himself as a who, subject and a
self.The relationship becomes personal wherein the other is recognized as a person
during the course of the encounter. The other is seen as not as a means but an end.
The relationship becomes mutual.
c) Eternal Thou
A term for God used by Martin Buber in I and Thou in contrast to a human and
temporal Thou. God There is a Thou (Absolute Thou) who by his very nature cannot
become an It. A man may hate, or curse God, turn away from God when suffering of
human destiny becomes unbearable. Yet, no man can reduce God to the status of a
thing who no longer addresses him and who becomes one object among others in the
world for him. As the eternal Thou, God is the ground of all IThou relations, but is not
merely an abstract power. Our relation to God is an extension of the human IThou
relation.

PHILOSOPHY OF THE HUMAN PERSON

University of San Agustin


AY: 2014-2015: First Semester

Paul Ricoeurs Neighbour


Paul Ricoeur made a distinction between the terms: socius and neighbour.
The narrative of the Parable of the Good Samaritan reveals the meaning of human
existence and different historical and social moments. To highlight this point, following
Ricouer, let us quote from the gospel of Luke, The Parable of the Good Samaritan:
A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who also
stripped and wounded himand it so happened that a Priest went down the same wayIn
like manner a Levite also passed byBut a certain Samaritan being on his journey came
near him and seeing him, was moved with compassionwhich of these three men, in your
opinion, was a neighbour to him that fell among the thieves? (Lk 10:30-37)

The parable is about the interpersonal and social dimension of human existence.
The neighbour, as exemplified by the Good Samaritan, implies personal
encounters, where one makes himself available for the other, independent from
his social roles. In the parable, the act of the Samaritan or his response to the event
makes him the image of being a neighbour, for being a person for others. Socius refers
to the functional relationships present in highly organized or structured groups
or societies. The socius preoccupied with ones social role like the priest and the Levite,
does not hear the message of the other human person, so that no face to face encounter
takes place between them. To be a neighbourthentranspires when an event takes place
without any social mediation. Being a neighbour is irreducible to being a social
category. This is because being a social category means having a defined role in the
society. The act of making oneself available is beyond any sociological abstraction. The
neighbour is the person who goes beyond social mediation.
For Ricoeur, being a neighbour lies in the habit of making oneself
available. This means that one is not determined by his or her defined role. Why use the
Samaritan as an exemplar in interpersonal relations? A Samaritan is considered as an
outcast. He is conceived as someone who has no role to portray in the society. He
has no social function. These characteristics enable the Samaritan to respond
positively to the surprise of the event of the encounter. Thus, the Samaritan rises
above it. Ricoeur says, he is the category of the non-category. The Samaritan as a
self is a person for others, an actor who rises above social functions. Thus, the
Samaritan is one who exemplifies the interpersonal because he acts not in view of any
definite role or character. The Samaritan is simply his own person who rises above social
mediation.
There is nothing wrong, however, in being assigned a definite function in
the society. This is because man is a social being. He has roles to play. He has to perform
certain functions. This is exemplified by the priest and Levite. Both were unable to
respond to the man who was robbed because they were caught up in their roles.

PHILOSOPHY OF THE HUMAN PERSON

University of San Agustin


AY: 2014-2015: First Semester

They showcase the individual who is entrenched in the social scheme of things, one who is
simply doing his job. Our social functions and roles are important in the sense that
without them, there can never be order in the society. The wrong thing happens when
people are too absorbed in their roles. People are sometimes too caught up in their
functions that they no longer see the person for whom a certain task is performed. They
dont see the person behind the face. Or worst, they dont even see the face as a
person because they reduce human interaction to the functional.

Emmanuel Levinas The Face


The Jewish thinker, Emmanuel Levinas (1906-1995), centres his entire philosophy on
the human face. In Totality and Infinity, 1961, Levinas describes human relationships in
great depth and complexity. Levinas' philosophy is directly related to his experiences
during World War II. His family died in the Holocaust and as a French citizen and soldier,
Levinas himself became a prisoner of war in Germany. While Levinas was forced to perform
labour as a prisoner of war, his wife and daughter were kept hidden in a French monastery
until his return. This experience, coupled with Heidegger's affiliation to National Socialism
during the war, clearly and understandably led to a profound crisis in Levinas' enthusiasm
for Heidegger.
The following comments will help illuminate what Levinas means by the face of the
Other:
a) Other (sometimes capitalized, sometimes not) usually translates the French word
autrui, which means the other person, someone else (i.e., other than oneself). It
is thus the personal other, the other person, whoever he/she is, that each of us
encounters directly or experiences the traces of every day. Of course, we encounter
a multiplicity of others, but Levinas more often uses the singular other to
emphasize that we encounter others one at a time, face to face.
b) By face Levinas means the human face(or in French, visage), but not thought of
or experienced as a physical or aesthetic object. Rather, the first, usual, unreflective
encounter with the face is as the living presence of another person and, therefore,
as something experienced socially and ethically. Living presence, for Levinas,
would imply that the other person (as someone genuinely other than myself) is
exposed to me and expresses him or herself simply by being there as an undeniable
reality that I cannot reduce to images or ideas in my head. This impossibility of
capturing the other conceptually or otherwise indicates the others infinity (i.e.,
irreducibility to a finite [bounded] entity over which I can have power). The other
person is, of course, exposed and expressive in other ways than through the literal
face (e.g., through speech, gesture, action, and bodily presence generally), but the

PHILOSOPHY OF THE HUMAN PERSON

University of San Agustin


AY: 2014-2015: First Semester

face is the most exposed, most vulnerable, and most expressive aspect of the
others presence.
The first word of the face is the Thou shalt not kill. It is an order. There is a
commandment in the
appearance of the face, as if a master spoke to me. However, at the same time, the face
of the Other is
destitute; it is the poor for whom I can do all and to whom I owe all. (Ethics and Infinity 89)
According to Levinas,"...I am responsible for the Other without waiting for
reciprocity, were I to die for it. Reciprocity is his affair. It is I who support
all...The I always has one responsibility more than all the others."For Levinas,
coming face to face with the Other is an asymmetrical relationship. I am
responsible for the Other without knowing that the Other will reciprocate. Whether or not
Others reciprocate is their affair not mine. Thus, according to Levinas, I am subject to the
Other without knowing how it will come out. In this relationship, Levinas finds the meaning
of being human and of being concerned with justice.
Levinas does not limit encounter with the face of the Other to the sighted. The
Others face is seen in different ways, through tactile sensations, from a sense of
presence, indirectly. Helen Keller, though blind and deaf, for example, through feeling her
teachers lips, tongue, mouth, eyes, nose, and vocal cords encountered the command and
authority of the Other. This encounter made communication and learning possible. The
face, actually the whole person of the Other, puts me under a tremendous obligation . Even
without saying a word, encountering another person speaks volumes. The human face
comes with a built-in ought. I can recognize or refuse the gaze of the stranger, the
widow, the orphan.
Reading Levinas on Ethical Responsibility
For Levinas, there can be no doubt that human relation begins at the
encounter with the face; this face-to-face relation is the basis for all other discourse in
society. He wants philosophy to begin with this relation, and this relation comes with an
ethical demand, i.e., before the face of the Other you shall not kill and in fact, you have to
defend the life of the other. As you encounter anothers face, you cannot escape
from this ethical command. It is inescapable. You cannot not respond to the face
of the other whom you encounter, and this response always comes with your
responsibility for the other. For Levinas, to be responsible is to be responsible for the other.
Once in his interview, he says:
Q.: Concretely, how is the responsibility for the other translated?

PHILOSOPHY OF THE HUMAN PERSON

University of San Agustin


AY: 2014-2015: First Semester

Emmanuel Levinas: The Other concerns me in all his material misery. It is a matter,
eventually, of nourishing him, of clothing him. It is exactly the biblical assertion: Feed
the hungry, clothe the naked, give drink to the thirsty, give shelter to the shelter-less. The
material side of man, the material life of the other, concerns me and, in the other, takes
on for me an elevated signification and concerns my holiness. Recall in Matthew 25, Jesus
You have hunted me, you have pursued me. When have we hunted you, when have we
pursued you? the virtuous ask Jesus. Reply: when you refused to feed the poor, when
you hunted down the poor, when you were indifferent to him! As if, with regard to the
other, I had responsibility starting from eating and drinking. And as if the other whom I
hunted were equivalent to a hunted God. This holiness is perhaps but the holi-ness of a
social problem. All the problems of eating and drinking, insofar as they concern the other,
become sacred. (IB, 52)
Levinas here brings philosophy down from abstract ideas into a concrete experience
concerned with the need of the Other. At the moment I face the Other, I cannot release
myself from this ethical relation. I have to be responsible for the Other at the
level of basic material needs. In the act of facing the Other, I cannot hide myself from
the Other. I cannot enjoy my life within myself alone because an act of facing here is an
openness of the self to the Other without return to the self. This concrete situation
moves the I to be responsible for the Other; the ethical relationship is prior to
any system of moral thought. When Levinas mentions the teaching in the Gospel, Matthew
25, here minds us about the way we treat the Other is the way we treat God. The
infinite
is
revealed
through
the
Other.
He
always
refers
to
the
Jewish proverb: the others material needs are my spiritual needs. Ethical
relation, for him, begins with the response to the Others material needs. To feed the
hungry, clothe the naked, give drink to the thirsty, give shelter to the shelter-less, are my
responsibilities. Holiness begins with practical morality, and practical morality is
essentially based on ethical relation, and this relation cannot be abolished from
human relationship.
He says, I have been speaking about that which stands behind practical morality; about
the extraordinary relation between a man and his neighbour, a relation that continues to
exist even when it is severely damaged. Of course we have the power to relate ourselves
to the Other as to an object, to oppress and exploit him; nevertheless the relation to the
Other, as a relation of responsibility, cannot be totally suppressed, even when it takes the
form of politics or warfare. Here it is impossible to free myself by saying, Its not
my concern. There is no choice, for itis always and inescapably my concern. (LR,
247)
Responsibility is usually understood in relation to the I and its actions. If I fail
to do this job, I have to be responsible for this failure. If the Other fails, responsibility
belongs to the Other and is not my concern. If the Other does something wrong, she or he

PHILOSOPHY OF THE HUMAN PERSON

University of San Agustin


AY: 2014-2015: First Semester

has to be responsible for that. Responsibility belongs to the subject who acts
willingly and intentionally. This form of responsibility is limited to the doer and
someone who co-operates in this doing. We can calculate how far this responsibility
extends, and how many persons are concerned. For Levinas, however, responsibility is
irreducible to any calculation and is not limited to any individual person. In his
interview with Mortley, he says: I cannot live in society on the basis of this one-toone responsibility alone. There is not calculation in this responsibility: there is
no pre-responsible knowledge (Mortley, 1991, p.18). And elsewhere he observes: To
be me is always to have one more responsibility (EN, 103)
Responsibility, for Levinas, is not conditioned by any knowledge. Instead, it
happens at the moment we encounter the face of the Other. This ethical
responsibility is prior to any knowledge of the other; in other words: I have to be
responsible for the Other even though I do not know him or her. As Levinas puts it:
I understand responsibility as responsibility for the Other, thus as responsibility for what
is not my deed, or for what does not even matter to me; or which precisely does matter to
me, is met by me as face (EI, 95). Before the Other, we have no choice, and we cannot
escape from our responsibility for the Other. To discover in the I such an
orientation is to identify the I and morality. The I before another is infinitely
responsible (TTO, 353). If the Other is beyond any limit and grasp, then responsibility is
limitless. Levinas uses the term infinite responsibility. Before the Other I have no choice,
I have to be responsible for the other. To escape from this responsibility, for Levinas, is not
possible. He says, To be an I then signifies not to be able to slip away from
responsibility (TTO, 353). He talks firmly about this inescapability by mentioning the
story of the prophet Jonah in the Bible. Jonah could not escape from his duty to God,
and God commanded him to go to Nineveh and warn people there about the divine
punishment for their sins. But for Jonah, the people of Nineveh were considered as the
other and not his concern. He wanted to deny Gods command. According to Levinas, we
cannot be free from responsibility just as Jonah could not escape from responsibility for the
other. Jonah could not deny his responsibility for the people of Nineveh even though Jonah
wanted to escape from this responsibility. This ethical responsibility is not a
reciprocal relationship, where we ask something in return. This asymmetrical
relationship imitates Gods mercy on the people of Nineveh. Jonah ought to
perform his responsibility without any expectation from them in return. For Levinas, the
asymmetry of the ethical relationship is very important for human relationships. It does
not imply demanding the Others responsibility for me; my responsibility for the
other does not mean the Other will do the same in return. The model is not that of
the Czars mother who, according to the story Levinas mentions, says to a dying soldier:
You must be very happy to die for your country. For him, this is a demand from the
Other. Responsibility is not a demand from the Other. It is an asymmetrical relation, the
departure from the I to the other without any return to the I. Levinas is very fond of

PHILOSOPHY OF THE HUMAN PERSON

University of San Agustin


AY: 2014-2015: First Semester

quoting DostoyevskysThe Brothers Karamazov: We are all responsible for everyone


else but I am more responsible than all the others.
In an interview with Richard Kearney, Levinas remarks As Alyosha Karamazov says
in The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoyevsky: We are all responsible for everyone else but
I am more responsible than all the others. And he does not mean that every I is more
responsible than all the Other, for that would be to generalize the law for everyone else
to demand as much from the Other as I do from myself. This essential asymmetry is
the very basis of ethics: not only am I more responsible than the Other but I am
even responsible for everyone elses responsibility.(Kearney, 1984: 67)
To be responsible for the Other is, for Levinas, essentially to be a substitution for
the Other. Being a substitution means: to put myself in the Others place, not to
appropriate him or her according to my wishes, but to offer to the other what he
or she needs, starting with basic material needs. To be an I is to substitute for the
Other. To be an I does not begin and end in itself, but departs from the self to the Other
without any return into the self. To substitute for the Other is to leave oneself for the Other.
It is to transcend ones egoism. In Otherwise than Being, Levinas says: Responsibility,
the signification of which is non-indifference, goes one way, from me to the
other. In the saying of responsibility, which is an exposure to an obligation for
which no one could replace me, I am unique. Peace with the other is first of all
my business (OB, 138-139).
Concerning this substitution, I am unique and no one can replace my responsibility.
And this responsibility for the Otherstems from the alterity of the Other. An ethical relation
from the I toward the Other is asymmetrical, and no one can take my place to be
responsible for the Other. The unique-ness of the I is the uniqueness of being
irreplaceable. My responsibility for the Other also has to regard the Other as Other, and
the Other is unique. This uniqueness of the Other cannot be reduced to be the same
genus. This is the ethical relation of the uniqueness of the I to the uniqueness of the
other.
In his interview with Mortley, Levinas says,When I talk about responsibility
and obligation, and consequently about the person with whom one is in a
relationship through the face, this person does not appear as belonging to an
order which can be embraced, or grasped. The Other, in this relationship of
responsibility, is, as it were, unique: unique meaning without genre. In this sense he is
absolutely Other, not only in relation to me; he is alone as if he were the only one of
significance at that moment. The essence of responsibility lies in the uniqueness of
the person for whom you are responsible. (Mortley 1991: 16)

PHILOSOPHY OF THE HUMAN PERSON

University of San Agustin


AY: 2014-2015: First Semester

References:

Alimajen,Domingo Rafael A. Jr. WE: "Nosology of Communion". Jaro, Iloilo City: St. Vincent
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Johnson, Patricia Altenbernd.On Heidegger. California: Wadsworth Thomson Learning,
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McGrath,Alister E. Christian Theology: An Introduction. United Kingdom: Blackwell
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Tangyin, Kajornpat. Reading Levinas on Ethical Responsibility. http://www.academia.edu
Tubo, Dennis Villanueva. Philosophy of Man: Existential- Phenomenological Approach,
Revised Edition. Philippines: National Bookstore, 2006.

PHILOSOPHY OF THE HUMAN PERSON

University of San Agustin


AY: 2014-2015: First Semester

Young, Bruce: Emmanuel Levinas and the face of the Other.


http://english.byu.edu/faculty/youngb/levinas/face.pdf