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HeyJ XLI (2000), pp.

4765

ON FREEDOM AND RESPONSIBILITY:


REMARKS ON SARTRE, LEVINAS
AND DERRIDA
HOLGER ZABOROWSKI

Christ Church, Oxford, UK

I. RESPONSIBILITY AND FREEDOM IN MODERN THOUGHT

In On the Genealogy of Morality, Friedrich Nietzsche draws attention to


the links between responsibility, freedom and conscience in a way that
is still worth considering:
The proud realization of the extraordinary privilege of responsibility, the awareness of this rare freedom and power over himself and his destiny, has penetrated
him to the depths and become an instinct, his dominant instinct: what will he
call this dominant instinct, assuming that he needs a word for it? No doubt about
the answer: this sovereign man calls it his conscience.1

Nietzsche speaks of the extraordinary privilege of responsibility. He


acknowledges the exceptional character of both freedom and responsibility. Responsibility is, one is frequently told, rather a late-comer in
Western ethics2 which refuses to be easily defined. It is, as Krystina
Danecka-Szopowa has stated,
a multi-dimensional, multivalent, cohesionless and independent notion,
interwoven into the drama of man and the world, shifting its position in the
hierarchy of values of perceiving man, a notion connected with the existence and
fate of Man, his feelings, aspirations, actions, and destiny. For all these reasons,
responsibility is a notion difficult to describe.3

Indeed, the issue of responsibility is arguably one of the most difficult


questions moral philosophy has to deal with. Therefore, what is to be
said on responsibility in modern thought in the following must necessarily be a rather sketchy overview. It is almost irresponsible, so to speak,
to simplify Sartres, Levinass, and Derridas thought in the following
way; but it is perhaps permissible in that it can support a more elaborate
narrative of twentieth-century French philosophy and of two of the
fundamental issues of moral philosophy as well. This article aims simply
The Editor/Blackwell Publishers Ltd, Oxford, UK and Boston, USA.

48 HOLGER ZABOROWSKI
at providing some initial thoughts towards a longer and more subtly
differentiated study.
Responsibility, like freedom, is one of the key notions in ethics, a
crisis of which inevitably leads to a crisis of ethics as well. The more
major strands of modern thought concentrated upon such issues, the
more, paradoxically, they seemed wholly to disappear. If the main paradigm of how to understand human action is that of mechanistic causality,
freedom and responsibility become increasingly problematic notions.
The traditional difference between theoretical and practical reason disappears once human action appears entirely explainable by reference to
psychology, biology, physics, sociology, or history. The notion of action
also loses its meaning, for human action cannot then be distinguished
from any purely natural phenomenon. Ethics, as one might have thought,
was to be wholly replaced by deterministic sciences or was simply to
provide advice on how to live as comfortably as possible.
A mechanistic point of view and the modern preoccupation with scientific explanations do not exclusively lead to determinism. They can
also lead to an infinitation of freedom at the cost of the traditional understanding of both nature and morality. For ones own existence could be
conceived of as a target of modern skills and techniques too. The modern
optimism about changing the world (and creating a new one) by the increasing success of sciences and other means of rational world-explanation
and action could also be applied to ones own existence. Nietzsches philosophy was in fact about how to create oneself as powerfully as possible.4
Kant aimed at solving the problem of determinism by laying stress on
the sharp distinction between theoretical and practical reason, between
the realm of causality and that of freedom. But he did not successfully
demonstrate a way of reconciling system and freedom. This not yet
satisfactorily solved issue was the starting-point of German idealism.
Initially, all idealist philosophers aimed at footnoting the French
Revolution and its almost pathetic focus on freedom while nevertheless
not giving up the systematic claim of philosophy. Fichte, Schelling and
Hegel each tried to bridge the gap between the realm of theoretical
reason and that of practical reason. The enormous success of Hegelianism, though, cannot conceal the fact that idealist philosophy has
always been the target of manifold criticism. The progressive success of
the sciences in the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries,
however, reinforced the on-going crisis of idealist thought. This gave
rise to an even more substantial crisis of freedom and responsibility than
in previous centuries. Marxism, Darwinism, and Freudian psychoanalysis attempted to solve the problem of freedom and responsibility,
roughly speaking, simply by abandoning these issues and replacing
them with deterministic and positivist ways of explanation. The history
of modern thought seems thus to be the history of the self-eradication of
ethics as well. For medical, psychological, socio-historical, or genetical

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49

reasons, the notion responsibility has increasingly become as questionable as the notion of freedom, or as that of subjectivity. In particular,
reductionistic ideologies such as behaviourism (Skinner), structuralism
(Lvi-Strauss, Althusser, Foucault) or functionalism (Luhmann) have
aimed at overcoming the notion of a responsible subject. The notion of
the subjects death has unquestionably made it more and more difficult
to defend the traditional idea of responsibility and to uphold the difference of theoretical and practical reason.
Still, responsibility has never ceased to be a major philosophical
topic. It has been dealt with in particular by twentieth-century phenomenology. The Wertphnomenologie (value phenomenology) of, for
instance, Nicolai Hartmann5 ought to be mentioned, and other approaches which are indebted to Heideggers fundamental ontology. The
question of to what extent Heideggers thought itself contributes to
ethics has long been neglected, or has simply been answered in the
negative. There is indeed still much research to be done on this issue.6
From a superficial point of view, his Being and Time and his later
thought deal as little with the question of responsibility as Jean-Paul
Sartres Being and Nothingness.7 He rejects any kind of axiological
philosophy and makes it clear that Being and Time ought not to be read
as a philosophical anthropology. Unquestionably, responsibility was not
a major issue for his thought8 as, interestingly, the notion of conscience
undoubtedly was.9 In the Letter on Humanism, he stressed his scepticism
about Sartre, because Sartre, so Heidegger judged, was still a metaphysical thinker and therefore oblivious of Being and its truth,10 and because
his evaluation was still beyond the letting-be. In fact, however, even
Sartres early and seemingly purely ontological thought is to be situated
in the very heart of ethical questions. His interpretation of consciousness
as nothing and of human freedom as creating its very existence without
any presupposed essence and without a priori values provide the groundwork for an ethics.11 Levinas and Derrida have also made important
and influential French contributions to the field of phenomenology of
responsibility. Worthy of mention are also the Polish phenomenologist
Roman Ingarden with his Man and Value,12 Wilhelm Weischedels Das
Wesen der Verantwortung. Ein Versuch (The Essence of Responsibility.
An Attempt),13 and the current Popes Love and Responsibility14 which is
much indebted to Max Schelers phenomenology.15 Hans Jonass The
Imperative of Responsibility16 also deals with responsibility, but from a
more ontological point of view.17
The notions of responsibility and of freedom have an interesting
history in twentieth-century thought. There is a dialectic of freedom
and responsibility which starts off with the pathos of infinite freedom
in Sartres existentialism. In what follows, I shall differentiate three
different, though not contradictory, kinds of responsibility through what
is mainly an analysis of twentieth-century French philosophy. I shall

50 HOLGER ZABOROWSKI
demonstrate that each notion of responsibility has its own right and
value and that they aim at answering completely different questions.
They indicate that responsibility can be looked at from at least three
different points of view. There is an anthropological point of view, an
ethical one, and a religious one, all of which are deeply interwoven with
one another. My approach will be to look at twentieth-century French
philosophy and its development. (A brief look at Walter S. Wurzburgers
ethics of responsibility will shed light on what one might call a
traditional Jewish understanding of responsibility. Wurzburger develops
an ethical and religious understanding of responsibility, which refuses to
derive religion from ethics. This view is meant to provide a contrast to
what will be said earlier on Levinas and Derrida.) I shall, finally, examine the notion of hope in Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. This notion is
to be understood against the background of what is, broadly speaking,
the existentialist understanding of responsibility. A look at how they
understood hope can thus broaden our analysis of the existentialist
understanding of responsibility and will mark one of the main differences vis--vis traditional religious understandings of responsibility.
In this article I shall concentrate on Sartre, Levinas and Derrida. I
shall show how responsibility was derived from a notion of infinite
freedom. This was to be limited, concretized and rooted in either a
teleological point of view on history and human obligation, as developed
by Sartre in his dialogue with Marxist philosophy, or a more original,
an-archic, concrete, yet infinite responsibility which was to limit the
infinite freedom. This idea can be found in Levinas and Derrida, and
possibly in the later Sartre as well. This latter notion of infinite responsibility, moreover, did not remain a purely secular idea. It was surpassed
theologically. Thus, one can find both in Levinas and in Derrida a stress
upon the link between absolute responsibility and God as the goal of
infinite responsibility. This recalls a more traditional understanding of
responsibility. Traditionally, responsibility had been understood against
a religious background. Responsibilitys etymological roots hint in
many European languages at a pre-existent commandment which we
have to respond to. Responsibility thus appears to be a wholly dialogic
notion.18 The idea of responsibility for oneself also presupposes this dialogic character too, even if one does not allow for an explicitly theological understanding of responsibility. For one can act towards oneself
and, for instance, overcome ones drive and instinct.
A theological view of responsibility appears to be crucially important
too, for otherwise, one cannot properly justify why and to what extent
one should be responsible.19 Kierkegaard would have agreed with this,
while yet upholding that a theological view on responsibility is not about
advice for, so to speak, ones bourgeois and conformist life. Levinas and
Derrida would likely agree as well, though in their own ways. Sartre
may have rejected a theological understanding of responsibility as he

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51

rejected a religious point of view. By his apotheosis of freedom he eliminated God as the absolute Other who can be experienced in the situation
of responsibility. His philosophy might be seen as an important attempt
to avoid the traditional notion of an objectified God and the selfapotheosis of humans. This view does not necessarily lead to atheism,20
for it might also entail another understanding of God and of humans as
being in Gods image. In the following section I provide an analysis of
Sartres understanding of freedom and responsibility.

II. BEYOND ORDINARY MORALITY:


INFINITE FREEDOM AND RESPONSIBILITY

Sartres philosophy is to be situated in a rather ambivalent relation to


religion. The autobiographical writing Words makes clear why, somehow, the whole of his philosophy is a continuous wrestling with religion,
or, to be more precise, with God. He writes: In short, I did all I could
to stand aside from secular power: neither above nor below, but elsewhere. A clerics grandson, I was a cleric from childhood; I had the
unctuousness of the princes of the Church and the hearty manner of
the priesthood.21 His being a cleric from childhood also sheds light on
his preoccupation with ethics, with the issues of freedom and, in his later
work, with responsibility.
In The Flies, we find a very dramatic expression of Sartres
philosophy of freedom. It shows the ambivalent character of freedom in
Sartres thought: You are not the king of man. [Y]ou should not have
made me free, Orestes thus accuses Zeus of his own freedom. Orestes
desperately laments the sudden awareness of his unlimited freedom,
which leads him to depair of any kind of security and orientation. The
way Sartre describes the disclosure of freedom brings to mind the
Platonic .22 The revelation of freedom happens as suddenly as
any mystical experience, and yet, it is a merely secular event: Suddenly,
out of the blue, freedom crashed down on me, and swept me off my
feet And there was nothing left in heaven, no Right or Wrong, nor
anyone to give me orders.23 Orestes has just returned to Argos, city of
his parents. It has become a hopeless hell on earth because of its guilt.
This emptiness, the shimmering air, that fierce sun overhead,24 is the
Tutors first characterization of this city crowded with flies, sent by
Zeus, god of flies and death. Suddenly, Orestes recognizes his infinite
freedom and also though it is not explicitly mentioned in this context
his infinite responsibility.
Sartres purely philosophical works can be read as a commentary on
his novels and plays (and, no doubt, vice versa). He avoided the narrow
boundaries of a purely philosophical discourse. The ethical dimension

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of his plays confirms that his philosophy was mainly a moral philosophy, though he never finished the ethical book referred to in The
Transcendence of the Ego25 and in Being and Nothingness.26 Not even the
Critique or Dialectical Reason27 fulfilled his promise. There are,
however, some writings which might be read as notes and fragments of
his ethics. There is his Notebooks for an Ethic,28 which he wrote in the
late 1940s. There are two lectures, one of which he delivered in Rome
in 1964, the other of which he intended to give at Cornell University, but
eventually refused to deliver it as a mark of protest against the Vietnam
war. And there is, finally, the unfinished yet voluminous Power and
Freedom.29
In examining Sartres ethics, we need to bear three things in mind:
Firstly, that the fact that his thought appears to lack an ethical dimension
is not the result of a lack of interest, but rather of a sensitive knowledge
of the difficulties of moral philosophy and a deeply rooted scepticism
about what he saw as traditional bourgeois ethics; secondly, that there is
a huge difference between Sartres own philosophy and any vulgar,
trendy rehash of existentialism; and, thirdly, that Sartres thought underwent development, to the extent that the later Sartre was very close to
Levinass radical ethics, which emphasized the role of generosity and
love;30 so that in the end he was perhaps justly deemed a Jew honoris
causa.31
In Being and Nothingness there are a few passages where the seemingly purely ontological discourse is interrupted by ethical considerations,
one of which deals with freedom and responsibility. If humans are
thrown inescapably into freedom and the duty to choose (for even not to
choose is a choice), as the early Sartre frequently argued, this entails
huge ethical implications. As Hazel E. Barnes, who elaborated an
ethic based on Being and Nothingness, puts it: The choice to live
unauthentically rests upon a refusal to recognize the existence and
demands of freedom; it seeks to hide from itself the very fact that it is a
choice. The choice to be ethical embraces both the recognition that one
is free and the acceptance of the responsibility which freedom entails.32
Sartres ethical considerations in Being and Nothingness go as follows:
The human carries the weight of the whole world on his shoulders;33
his responsibility is overwhelming34 and absolute35 as the logical
requirement of the consequences of our freedom.36 Sartre thus gives
Orestess accusation a philosophical expression: It is the very conditio
humana, that I find myself suddenly alone and without help, engaged
in a world for which I bear the whole responsibility without being able,
whatever I do, to tear myself away from this responsibility for an
instant.37 He is thrown into a responsibility, which extends to
his very abandonment.38 This responsibility must be read against the
background of Kantian ethics and its universalism; according to Sartre,
everyone should ask what would happen if everyone did as one is

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53

doing?39 Far from offering a post-modern anything goes, a quietism


of despair, a contemplative philosophy, a pessimistic laissez faire,
an aesthetic morality or an individual subjectivism even if some might
have read Sartre in this quite fashionable way Sartre himself stresses,
that our aim is precisely to establish the human kingdom as a pattern of
values in distinction from the material world.40
To some extent, Existentialism and Humanism puts into question the
emptiness of responsibility in Being and Nothingness. According to
Being and Nothingness, there cannot be any difference between getting
drunk alone and leading a nation. There cannot be any substantially
moral difference between different goals of human action; there can only
be different degrees of consciousness of these goals.41 Existentialism and
Humanism leads to the political (i.e., Marxist), concrete notion of responsibility which we find in Sartres later philosophy. In The Itinerary of a
Thought, an interview Sartre gave to the New Left Review, he draws
attention to how the focus of his philosophical interests changed: Thus
what I will write one day is a political testament. What I would like
to show is how a man comes to politics, how he is caught by them,
and how he is remade other by them; because you must remember that I
was not made for politics, and yet I was remade by politics so that I
eventually had to enter them. It is this which is curious.42
Sartres understanding of freedom presupposes many traditional
values. Furthermore, he does not give up the elementary distinction
between good and evil. For his often-cited example of the young student, who wanted him to advise him on whether he should stay with his
mother or join the Free French, is a moral dilemma which presupposes
the idea that a humans good cannot be grasped straightforwardly.
Decisions must inevitably be taken in this case either according to a
morality of sympathy, of personal devotion or according to a morality
of wider scope but of more debatable validity.43 The young mans
dilemma is tantamount to that which Antigone and Abraham faced, and
there is no simple solution for it. To do good always means to have to
decide between different goods. One could imagine someone leaving
his mother in order to simply enjoy himself without being interested in
his own or in the others freedom. This, though, would be beyond the
realization of freedom which Sartre would have agreed with, although
every purpose, however individual it may be, is of universal value.44
Despite the variability of moral contents, a certain form of this morality
is universal.45 Freedom for oneself and for others is the measure of our
deeds and it is therefore possible to judge a man by saying that he
deceives himself.46

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III. INFINITATION AN ANNIHILATION?

From a critical point of view, I want to argue, that the purely abstract
infinitation of both freedom and responsibility is the abolition of both.
If freedom were nothing but intrinsically infinite, it would destroy itself
and would not be freedom any more. The arbitrary domination of this
infinity smacking of compulsion, would rule over humans who want to
be released and freed from their own infinite freedom: You should not
have made me free. The same destruction by infinitation can be seen in
the case of responsibility: the infinitation of responsibility lethargizes,
and leads to the annihilation of responsibility. To be responsible for
everything means to be responsible for nothing. As J. R. Lucas has it: It
makes some people feel good to feel bad about things generally it
shows them to be moral without the inconveniences of actual action.47
The Sartrean notion of responsibility includes the impossibility of
ethical freedom and responsibility. But even blame and praise do not
disappear and do not seem to be useless conceptions within the logic of
infinitation. They are themselves infinitated depending upon ones
perspective. Focusing on the freedom which humans are condemned to,
every decision, on the one hand, will be an act of realizing, of actualizing, of living, and of fearlessly accepting this freedom, and is to be
praised. From the point of view of responsibility, on the other hand,
every decision to act is totally to be blamed, because to decide on one
possible option involves excluding all other options from being realized
and actualized. In Existentialism and Humanism, Sartre deals with this
question of choice. Choice, he argues, is characteristic of any human
action. The world we have to live is, according to Sartre, substantially
characterized by the tragedy of freedom. The infinitation of freedom and
responsibility is a radical abolition of these concepts. The notions of
freedom and responsibility can only be saved and thus properly be
understood if the account of the infinitation of both is understood as a
pre-ethical, anthropological narrative of the condition humaine. This
ought to be counterbalanced by an account of ethical, i.e., concrete,
freedom and responsibility. Since an extended account of concrete moral
duties is missing, particularly in Sartres earlier writings, Dominic
LaCapra has convincingly argued that in Being and Nothingness
freedom seemed paradoxically to be both total and self-effacing or selfnugatory nothing in effect, but the nothing that made a world of difference in meaning and value.48 Owing to this lack of concrete orientation
and values in Sartre, which, to some extent, is also true of his later work,
where he thinks about different values and obligations much more explicitly, one can understand why Juliette Simont calls her attempt to
write an essay on Sartrean ethics a philosophical wager.49 The notions
of infinite freedom considered above do not form an ethics, although
they are of huge ethical importance. They constitute a tragic anthropology

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55

rather than an ethics, as Thomas C. Anderson who speaks of Sartres two


ethics,50 has argued, since they do not concern concrete ethical issues
and do not offer any answers to the question of how to live or what to
hope for (except for freedom itself).
From a historical point of view, Sartres notion of infinite freedom,
his fundamental lesson of freedom,51 and his understanding of
responsibility which was closely bound up with it, was very influential.
One can find these ideas in, for instance, Levinas, where admittedly the
stress lies more on responsibility than on freedom. Levinas emphasizes
mainly that we are infinitely and inescapably responsible. Therefore,
our freedom is limited, as Levinas has put it, before we have agreed to
limit ourselves. This first notion of responsibility is therefore not to be
abolished, but to be completed by a glance at concrete ethical situations.
I shall argue that both Sartre and Levinas take this situation into
consideration. In his emphasis on the utterly free and unlimited human,
Sartre does not have very much in common with an enthusiastic, vulgar
existentialism desperately searching for its own self-fulfilment, but not
considering Sartres idea of responsibility and his later thought. The
later Sartre was himself fairly sceptical about his early thought. He subsequently decried it perhaps too readily as idealistic and did not see its
undoubtedly important role for philosophical ethics. While stressing that
his thought had always been concerned with ethics, he criticized his
early attempts to think radically of human freedom and responsibility
as mystical or idealistic it is la grande moral which did not take
into account the social reality, being a pure ethics of character (Gesinnungsethik). This was to be replaced mainly by Critique of Dialectique
Reason and the Cornell and the Rome Lecture. The notion of infinite
freedom and the emphasis upon unlimited responsibility is thus not
Sartres last word on the question of freedom and responsibility.
If one takes the notion of infinite responsibility seriously, one cannot
but limit freedom. If responsibility is thought of as superior to freedom,
the latter must be strictly limited. In what follows I shall be focusing on
Levinass thought and his phenomenology of responsibility, touching
also upon Derridas The Gift of Death, which is intriguingly close to
Levinass thought.
IV. INFINITE RESPONSIBILITY: THE LIMITS OF FREEDOM

In the 1960s Sartre revised his radical understanding of freedom by


stressing the priority of political responsibility. Levinas,52 however, tried
to accept, on the one hand, the supremacy of responsibility over freedom, whilst on the other attempting to replace the priority of politics by
the priority of proximity.53 He recognized the intrinsic limits of a moral
philosophy primarily based on freedom: My freedom does not have the

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last word; I am not alone.54 The face to face, the ethical experience in
encountering the Other was thought of as the primary situation from
which politics and their universalizing discourse are derived. According
to Levinas philosophy of service and hospitability, this responsibility is
an-archic. It is without comprehensible or graspable arch55 and beyond
the intentionality of noesis and noema which is presupposed by both
Husserls56 and by Heideggers57 analysis of intersubjectivity. More than
just alter ego, the Other is a naked face, pure commandment, irreducible
and radically different. The Other forces one into a diachronically occurring responsibility. This responsibility is not subject to the danger of
infinitation, as it is not an empty, abstract notion any more. The face
of the Other is the most concrete way to experience responsibility. Here,
of course, the difference between responsibility (for what one has done)
and the commandment to love vanishes.58 The future of the Other, not
the past of what one has already done, becomes the main focus of responsibility. Before and after freedom, beyond the solipsistic notion
of radical freedom, I encounter the Other and experience that my freedom
is put in question.59
But what about politics, the field, where responsibility must inevitably be concretized and rescued? Having mentioned Sartres political
radicalization and realization of his idea of freedom and responsibility,
we must here ask whether Levinass philosophy can do justice to our
political life. We are indeed, as Aristotle has it, intrinsically political
beings. Is not Levinass philosophy a solipsism for two and therefore
incapable of properly understanding responsibility in that it leads to the
somewhat strange possibility, that if one is to be praised because of
ones response to the face of the Other, one is to be blamed because of
ones neglect of all the other Others, the third parties? Or is the place
where the Other and I, so to speak, intimately meet and feel infinitely
responsible for the Other, all too cosy and comfortable? Derrida has
strikingly emphasized this aporetic character of infinite responsibility:
How would you justify your presence here speaking one particular language,
rather than there speaking to others in other languages? There is no language,
no reason, no generality or meditation to justify this ultimate responsibility which
leads me to absolute sacrifice; absolute sacrifice that is not the sacrifice of irresponsibility on the altar of responsibility, but the sacrifice of the most imperative
duty (that which binds me to the other as a singularity in general) in favour of
another absolutely imperative duty binding me to the wholly other.60

This view would lead again to the annihilation of blame and praise,
paradoxically, not primarily because of the realization of ones freedom,
but rather of ones responsibility. Levinass thought is about this
accusation, about the interruption and disturbance by the Other. And yet,
the face to face situation shows a way to solve the aporetic situation.
When I encounter the Other, there is no other way but becoming aware

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57

of ones responsibility to this particular person. It is precisely the notion


of responsibility concretized in the face of the Other that makes an
annihilation of responsibility cynical, if not impossible. Derrida
strangely does not see this dimension of the face-to-face encounter. His
rather pathetic expression of the sacrifice of responsibility falls
strangely back into another understanding of responsibility either into
that of the early Sartre or into a more traditional one that understands
responsibility in terms of what is usually called justice and what is to be
rationally justified.
What does Levinass understanding of the Other mean for politics? It
is in the unique relation to the Other, according to Levinas, that the third
part and therefore political and legal questions arise. But politics left to
itself bears a tyranny within itself.61 State and society can only work if
both are not understood from a strictly universalizing point of view, as
in Hegels Philosophy of Right,62 but from the relation to the Other to
which the work of the state must be situated, and which it must take as
a model.63
It may be questioned whether Gillian Rose is right in her critique of
Levinas. She is in general quite critical about Levinass Buddhist
Judaism as the sublime other of Modernity64 and in particular comments
critically on Levinass complete lack of interest in political virtue.65 No
doubt there is in Levinas a lack of consideration as to how to apply
his thought politically. And, indeed, it might have appeared that Levinas
is not interested in politics at all, because he took the Third into his
consideration relatively late. Levinass philosophy, though, ought to be
read entirely as a reaction against twentieth-century totalitarianism and
should be interpreted in particular against the background of his own
biography. It is thus an answer to what is essentially a political problem
too, i.e., the relation to the Other. To say that he is not interested in
political virtue is far too simple. A notion of political responsibility which
is rooted in Levinass philosophy is admittedly still to be developed.
How to cope with the pluralities of Others, so to speak, is one of the
challenging questions for any future philosophy which aims to take
Levinas seriously.
Levinass philosophy seemingly may stand for the priority of ethics in
relation to religion. It is open to discussion whether this understanding
of Levinas is correct. He argues that ethics, as intrinsically bound up
with religion, is superior and prior to classical ontology and that Being
derives its meaning from the proximity between myself and the Other.
Only further considerations about the understanding of religion both in
his philosophical and in his religious writings can illuminate the
relationship between religion and ethics as he presupposes and explains
it. Whereas Kants philosophy leads to the postulates of freedom,
immortality of the soul and God, i.e., his practical philosophy does not
presuppose God, Levinass phenomenology of what is always beyond

58 HOLGER ZABOROWSKI
the phenomenologically reachable horizon, of what is always past without having ever been present, neither presupposes nor postulates. This
is indeed one of the crucial differences between Kant and Levinas.
Phenomenology is a philosophical school of seeing attentively. Levinas
describes phenomenologically what happens in the experience of the
Other. One encounters, as he has it, the trace of what he calls illeit.66
This happens even if one, unintentionally or intentionally, overlooks or
neglects it. The Other is not the incarnation of God, but precisely by his
face, in which he is disincarnate, is the manifestation of the height in
which God is revealed.67
It is worth questioning, whether Levinass idea of an eschatology
without hope is conformable to traditional Christian orthodoxies.68
According to Levinas we must not hope for anything, although we are
infinitely responsible. He draws attention to an important issue, that of
the intention of our action. Responsible action, however ethically appropriate, can be utterly cold and calculating. Levinas is right to emphasize
that our ethical behaviour if, for instance, one helps a needy fellow
human must not be determined primarily by eschatological or profane
expectations such as personal satisfaction. But this is not what Christian
ethics and eschatology are about. Traditional Christian ethics with
its emphasis upon selfless love are in fact very close to Levinass
philosophy while not giving up their eschatological dimension. There is
eschatological hope, one might argue, because of the Other and his
happiness and therefore because of oneself too.
Derrida has developed another account of infinite responsibility in
what is one of his most prominent ethical and religious writings, The
Gift of Death. This must be read as a profound critique of Kant and his
generalizing ethics. Rereading Kirkegaards Fear and Trembling,69
Derrida looks at Abraham and his will to sacrifice his own son, and his
particular indirect70 responsibility (or, indeed, irresponsibility). To
understand Abraham and the silence of his response to his commanding
God means to get to know a responsibility which is more than ethics,
more than just doing ones duty. The latter can be quite tempting71 and
comfortable: as long as one does not, for instance, commit murder,
seemingly one can live comfortably and ethically self-satisfied and
justified. But there is a realm beyond ethics and its universality and generality. This is the realm of absolute, infinite, lonely and unconceptual
responsibility where one must decide without there being any choice.
One is not able to break the silence, nor to make understood ones
reasons and intentions, not even to oneself. Paradoxically, the ethical
can therefore end up making us irresponsible.72 This responsibility
beyond our traditional understanding of responsibility can only be fully
understood as religious responsibility. But it does not mean the
dismissal of ethics as widely conceived, for in betraying it (sc. ethical
duty as ordinarily understood) one belongs to it and at the same time

ON FREEDOM AND RESPONSIBILITY

59

recognizes it.73 Yet far from being an exceptional situation the


sacrifice of Isaac illustrates the most common and everyday experience of responsibility.74
I merely mention one danger of this notion of irresponsible, inconceivable and unthinkable responsibility. It is the seemingly heroic
dismissal of ethics in order to avoid justification of what cannot but be
blamed. That is in fact irresponsible in the ordinary sense of the word.
To understand responsibility as infinite does not by any means lead to
the dismissal of everyday ethics.75 Furthermore, the tension between
everyday ethics and responsibility as understood by Levinas and Derrida
remains. It is comparable to what has traditionally been conceived of as
the tension between justice and love.

V. RESPONSIBILITY AND LAW

Here I draw attention to another approach to responsibility, which is


built on rather anti-Kantian presuppositions and which is also meant to
be a critique of contemporary Jewish approaches to both ethics and religion. I do not aim at critically discussing this approach, however worth
discussing some of its presuppositions are. The Jewish philosopher
Walter S. Wurzburger has presented a distinctively Jewish covenantal
ethics of responsibility in opposition to modern Jewish thinkers who,
under Kants influence, contend that religion is a postulate of ethics.76
This means that his target is an understanding of the relation between
responsibility and God, as is the case in Levinas and Derrida.
Wurzburgers ethics is rooted in an understanding of Halakhah as the
supreme normative authority,77 as a system both of supernaturally revealed teachings and divinely ordained canon of interpretations78 which
represents the revealed will of God.79 Wurzburger is deeply convinced
that secular pluralistic systems of ethics can provide no assurance
that their basic premises will not eventually lead to self-contradictory
conclusions.80 Only a divine source can, according to Wurzburger,
provide this assurance; or, as Dostojevski has put it, if there is no God,
anything can be permitted. From this point of view, there also arises
another understanding of responsibility and freedom. For freedom can
only be fully realized within the boundaries of divine law; responsibility
is understood essentially as responsibility to God. The religious aspect
of responsibility is not built on the ethical one. So long as one focuses
on divine law, either in the Jewish understanding of written and oral
law or in the Stoic and Christian understanding of the natural law,
a divine commandment can be encountered. Whether one decides to
live according to those laws or not is, one might argue, a question of
absolute responsibility which is not entirely a matter of rational

60

HOLGER ZABOROWSKI

decision. Wurzburger stresses that Jewish ethics had ample room to


accommodate concerns both of act-morality and agent-morality or what
nowadays is dubbed virtue-ethics .81 In Maimonides he discovers an
original type of virtue ethics which is not indebted to metaphysical
presuppositions as, according to Wurzburger, Aristotles ethics is. It is
a virtue-ethics in response to the religious norm of thou shalt walk in
His ways .82 Virtue ethics, rooted in the responsibility to Gods commandment and, as can be added, to ones goal and telos. Then, responsibility
is also impossible without eschatological hope.
Joseph J. Kotva has stressed the link between virtue-ethics, ethical
perfectionism and the importance of every choice. Virtue-ethics is perfectionist in the sense of viewing all aspects of life as morally relevant
and in calling everyone to continual growth in every area of life.83 This
understanding of virtue ethics recalls, to a certain extent, Sartres philosophy and his view that everything that one does (and even what one
does not do) is morally relevant. Sartres view is, of course, based upon
completely different presuppositions.

VI. RESPONSIBILITY AND HOPE

Quite the opposite to the theological interpretation of responsibility can


be found in Sartre, and also in Simone de Beauvoir: no eschatology at all
(or, at most, only an entirely secularized one). In the Lvy interviews,84
Sartre emphasizes that the idea of the value of hope came to me
slowly85 after Being and Nothingness, but that hope nevertheless was
never absent for long in his life.86 Although he considers hope to be
bound to an absolute goal, this remains a matter of an inner-worldly
future. He does not think of a divine goal of hope which transcends the
inner-wordly realm. Death is an absolute limit which not even hope can
transcend. Dying is indeed that event of my subjectivity that I cannot
know, and consequently has no truth for me. Death entails the
indetermination of my knowledge (connaissance); it plunges the totality
of my knowledge (savoir) into ignorance, he stated in the posthumous
Truth and Existence.87
Simone de Beauvoir gave a somewhat more radical expression to this
heroic secular hope: You are in your little box; you will not come out
of it and I shall not join you there. Even if I am buried next to you, there
will be no communication between your ashes and mine.88 There is no
further hope for de Beauvoir, but simply the heroic affirmation of times
past. For it is in itself splendid that we were able to live our lives in
harmony for so long.89

ON FREEDOM AND RESPONSIBILITY

61

VII. CONCLUSION

This article has aimed at providing a narrative of different understandings of freedom and responsibility. It has drawn attention to significant
developments in the understanding of these notions and their relation,
particularly in twentieth-century French thought. These different understandings are by no means entirely irreconcilable. They shed light on
different dimensions of freedom and responsibility. One dimension
is not to be simply replaced by another. The multidimensional and
multivalent notion of responsibility and of freedom alike can only be
properly understood and defended against any deterministic abolition of
them when these different dimensions are taken into consideration. This,
of course, questions also the gap that exists between different kinds of
contemporary ethics, between, say, virtue ethics and some postmodern
ethics beyond ethics. These different ideas of responsibility and freedom
constitute complementary rather than alternative views on the extraordinary privilege of responsibility and freedom.
Notes
1 Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morality, ed. Keith Ansell-Pearson, trans. Carol
Diethe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), p. 40.
2 William Schweiker, Responsibility & Christian Ethics (New Studies in Christian Ethics)
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), p. 65.
3 Krystyna Danecka-Szopowa, On Responsibility in A. T. Tynieniecka (ed.), Analecta
Husserliana, Vol. XXVI 1 (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publisher, 1989), pp. 31926 (here
p. 319).
4 Cf. Karl Jaspers, Man as His Own Creator in Robert C. Solomon (ed.), Nietzsche.
A Collection of Critical Essays (New York: Anchor Press 1973), pp. 13155.
5 Cf. Nicolai Hartmann, Ethik (Berlin: de Gruyter, 41962).
6 For the ethical in Heideggers thought and for ethical consideration for which Heideggers
philosophy serves as a starting-point, see Joanna Hodge, Heidegger and Ethics (London: Routledge,
1995); Frederick A. Olafson, Heidegger and the Ground of Ethics. A Study of Mitsein (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1998); (Olafsons study is particularly important as Joanna Hodgson
overlooks the ethical significance of Mitsein); Nancy J. Holland, The Madwomans Reason. The
Concept of the Appropriate in Ethical Thought (University Park, Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania
State University Press, 1998).
7 Cf. Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness. An Essay on Phenomenological Ontology,
trans. Hazel E. Barnes (London: Routledge, 1972).
8 This character of Being and Time is illustrated by the fact that responsible or
responsibility appear only three times in two different contexts; cf. Martin Heidegger, Sein und
Zeit (Tbingen: Max Niemeyer Verlag 171993), pp. 127, 288 (= Martin Heidegger, Being and Time,
trans. John Macquarrie & Edward Robinson [London: SCM Press Ltd, 1962], pp. 165 and 334); cf.
also Rainer A. Bast and Heinrich P. Delfosse, Handbuch zum Textstudium von Martin Heideggers
Sein und Zeit, Band 1: Stellenindizes: Philologisch-kritischer Apparat (Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt:
frommann-holzboog, 1979), p. 285. The notion of metontology, which one finds infrequently in
Heidegger, has also ethical implications.
9 Cf. Martin Heidegger, Sein und Zeit, pp. 270ff. (= Time and Being, pp. 315ff.).
10 Cf. Martin Heidegger, Letter on Humanism in Martin Heidegger, Basic Writings. From
Being and Time (1927) to The Task of Thinking (1964), revised and expanded edition, ed. David
Farrell Krell (London: Routledge, 1993), pp. 21365, here p. 232. It is to be asked whether
Heidegger can do justice to Sartre: Hans-Georg Gadamer reports that Heidegger gave him his own
copy of Being and Nothingness as a present and that Heidegger had cut only the first forty pages
(Ich habe spter die Erstausgabe von Letre et le neant bekommen. Es war ein Geschenk von

62

HOLGER ZABOROWSKI

Martin Heidegger an mich. Er hatte aus diesem Bande vierzig Seiten aufgeschnitten; weiter war er
mit der Lektre nicht gekommen, und das ist gar nicht so verwunderlich. Man mu zunchst einmal
sagen, da dieses Buch unglaublich schwer zu lesen ist ); cf. Hans-Georg Gadamer Das Sein
und das Nichts in Traugott Knig (ed.), Sartre: Ein Kongress (Internationaler Sartre-Kongress an
der Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universitt Frankfurt am Main, 9.12. Juli 1987) (Reinbek bei
Hamburg: Rowohlt Taschenbuch Verlag, 1988), pp. 3752, here p. 37.
11 Hazel E. Barnes has developed an existentialist ethics based mainly on Sartres Being and
Nothingness: Hazel E. Barnes, Existentialist Ethics (Chicago and London: The University of
Chicago Press, 1985) (reprint).
12 Roman Ingarden, On Responsibility in Man and Value, trans. Arthur Szyiewicz (Mnchen,
Wien: Philosophie Verlag, 1983), pp. 53117.
13 Wilhelm Weischedel, Das Wesen der Verantwortung. Ein Versuch (Frankfurt am Main:
Klostermann, 1972).
14 Karol Wojtyla, Love and Responsibility (London: Fount, 1982).
15 Cf. Kevin P. Doran, Solidarity. A Synthesis of Personalism and Communalism in the Thought
of Karol Wojtyla (New York: Peter Lang, 1996).
16 Hans Jonas, The Imperative of Responsibility. In Search of an Ethics for the Technological
Age, trans. Hans Jonas with the collaboration of David Herr (Chicago, London: University of
Chicago Press, 1984).
17 Cf. William Schweiker, Responsibility & Christian Ethics, pp. 189ff.
18 J. R. Lucas (Responsibility, Oxford: Clarendon Press 1993, pp. 512) explores this dialogic
character of responsibility. Responsibility means, as Lucas has it, that one can be asked Why did
you do this?
19 The debate about an ultimate rational justification of ethics with, say, Karl-Otto Apel
does indicate the problematic justification of any purely secular ethics: cf. Karl-Otto Apel, The
a priori of the Communication Community and the Foundations of Ethics: The Problem of a
Rational Foundation of Ethics in the Scientific Age in Towards a Transformation of Philosophy,
translated by Glyn Adey and David Frisby (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1980), pp. 225300.
For a critique of Apels thought see Hans Albert, Transzendentale Trumereien. Karl-Otto Apels
Sprachspiele und sein hermeneutischer Gott (Hamburg: Hoffmann & Campe, 1975).
20 Sartre (Existentialism and Humanism, translation and introduction by Philip Mairet [London:
Methuen & Co. Ltd, 1963], p. 56) even concedes that his philosophy would be wholly the same
even if God existed: Existentialism is not atheist in the sense that it would exhaust itself in
demonstrations of the non-existence of God. It declares, rather, that even if God existed that would
make no difference from its point of view. Not that we believe God does exist, but we think that
the real problem is not that of His existence; what man needs is to find himself again and
to understand that nothing can save him from himself, not even a valid proof of the existence
of God.
21 Jean-Paul Sartre, Words, trans. lrene Clephane (London: Hainish Hamilton, 1964), p. 25.
22 Cf. Plato, Epistle VII, 341 C.
23 Jean-Paul Sartre, The Flies in Jean-Paul Sartre, Altona, Men Without Shadows, The Flies
(London: Penguin Books, 1973), pp. 309ff.
24 Ibid., p. 235.
25 Jean-Paul Sartre, The Transcendence of the Ego. An Existentialist Theory of Consciousness,
transl. and annotated with an Introduction by Forrest Williams and Robert Kirkpatrick (New York:
Octagon Books, 1972), pp. 1046.
26 Sartre, Being and Nothingness, p. 628.
27 Ibid.
28 Jean-Paul Sartre, Notebook for an Ethics, trans. David Pellauer (Chicago and London:
University of Chicago Press, 1992).
29 Cf. Juliette Simont, Sartrean Ethics in Christina Howells (ed.), The Cambridge Companion
to Sartre (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), pp. 178210 and Gerhard Seel, Wie
htte Sartres Moralphilosophie ausgesehen? in Knig (ed.), Sartre: Ein Kongress, pp. 27693.
30 Anderson (Sartres Two Ethics. From Authenticity to Integral Humanity, op. cit., 193) states
that undoubtedly, Sartres statements about morality and the other person reflect some influence of
Levinas on him. Benny Lvy is a personal friend of Levinas, and he frequently referred to him in
his conversations with Sartre. On pp. 169ff., Anderson gives an overview on what might have been
the content of Sartres third morality.
31 Cf. Steven Schwarzschild Jean-Paul Sartre as Jew, Modern Judaism 3 (1983), p. 59.
32 Hazel E. Barnes, Existentialist Ethics, p. 19.

ON FREEDOM AND RESPONSIBILITY

63

33 Sartre, Being and Nothingness, p. 553, cf. also Existentialism and Humanism, p. 29: Thus,
the first effect of existentialism is that it puts every man in possession of himself as he is, and places
the entire responsibility for his existence squarely upon his own shoulders.
34 Sartre, Being and Nothingness, p. 553.
35 Ibid., p. 554.
36 Ibid.
37 Ibid., pp. 556/7.
38 Ibid.
39 Sartre, Existentialism and Humanism, p. 30. For the proximity to Kant see: Immanuel Kant,
Critique of Practical Reason And Other Writings in Moral Philosophy, translated and edited with
an introduction by Lewis White Beck (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1949), p. 80: Act
only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a
universal law.
40 Sartre, Existentialism and Humanism, p. 45.
41 Cf. Sartre, Being and Nothingness, p. 624.
42 Jean-Paul Sartre, The Itinerary of a Thought in Between Existentialism and Marxism,
translated from the French by John Matthews (London: NLB, 1974), pp. 3364, here pp. 63f.
43 Sartre, Existentialism and Humanism, p. 36.
44 Ibid., p. 46.
45 Ibid., p. 52.
46 Ibid., p. 50.
47 J. R. Lucas, Responsibility, p. 262.
48 Dominic LaCapra, A Preface to Sartre (London: Methuen and Co. Ltd, 1979), p. 148.
49 Juliette Simont, Sartrean Ethics in Christina Howells, The Cambridge Companion to Sartre,
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), pp. 178211 (here p. 178).
50 Thomas C. Anderson, Sartres Two Ethics. From Authenticity to Integral Humanity (Chicago
and La Salle, Illinois: Open Court, 1993). This book is an important amendment to Andersons The
Foundation and Structure of Sartrean Ethics (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1979). It is to
be noted that there are in fact three Sartrean ethics: There is, firstly, what Sarte called the idealistic
ethics based upon the ontology of Being and Nothingness; there is, secondly, the materialistic ethics
of the Critique of Dialectical Reason and of the immediately subsequent writings; and there is,
thirdly, what is called Power and Freedom. Anderson explains why it is extremely difficult to figure
out what this third morality is like: Because of his blinding stroke in the mid seventies, it [sc.
Power and Freedom] consists almost entirely of tape-recorded interviews with an ex-Maoist, Benny
Lvy. Unfortunately, practically none of them have been made available, and now, almost two
decades after they were recorded, there is serious doubt whether the interviews will ever find their
way into print. (p. 2).
51 Emmanuel Levinas, A Language Familiar to us in Telos 44 (1980), pp. 199201 (here p. 200).
52 Cf. Bernhard H. F. Taureck, Ethik jenseits von Moral. Sartre, Lvinas, Baudrillard in
Deutsche Zeitschrift fr Philosophie. Monatszeitschrift der internationalen philosophischen
Forschung, 39/11 (1991), pp. 121230.
53 For Levinass ethics, see, e.g.: John Llewelyn, Emmanuel Levinas. The Genealogy of Ethics
(London and New York: Routledge, 1995); Sen Hand (ed.), Facing the Other. The Ethics of
Emmanuel Levinas (Surrey: Curzon Press, 1996).
54 Emmanuel Levinas, Totality and Infinity. An Essay on Exteriority, trans. Alphonso Lingis
(The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1969), p. 101.
55 Whereas, according to Levinas, the tradition almost entirely since the Pre-Socratics dealt
with the arch, the principles of being, Levinas claims to go further and beyond Being.
56 Cf. Edmund Husserl, Cartesian Meditations. An Introduction to Phenomenology, trans.
Dorion Cairns (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1960), pp. 89151 (particularly pp. 4262).
57 Cf. Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, pp. 15363 ( 26: The Dasein-with of Others, and
everyday Being-With).
58 J. R. Lucas (Responsibility, p. 258) does indeed have a different philosophical standpoint to
that of Levinas. Cf. what he says about the limits of responsibility and about love: Responsibility
by itself carries no connotation of spontaneity or warmth. I can be utterly responsible, but very
boring and rather cold. Responsibility is like justice, very necessary in its way, but not by itself
enough. Altogether responsibility lacks charm, lacks the human touch.
59 Cf. Emmanuel Levinas, Totality and Infinity, p. 303.
60 Jacques Derrida, The Gift of Death, translated by David Wills (Chicago and London: The
University of Chicago Press, 1995), p. 71.

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61 Levinas, Totality and Infinity, p. 300.


62 Cf. Georg-Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Philosophy of Right, translated with notes by T. M.
Knox (Oxford: At the Clarendon Press, 1967).
63 Levinas, Totality and Infinity, p. 300.
64 Gillian Rose, Athens and Jerusalem: a Tale of Three Cities in Gillian Rose, Mourning
becomes the Law. Philosophy and Representation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996),
pp. 1539 (here p. 38). Her reading and critique of Levinas cannot fully be discussed here, but
should be subject to further investigations.
65 Gillian Rose, O! untimely death./Death! in Gillian Rose, Mourning becomes the Law,
pp. 12546, here p. 135.
66 For the religious dimension of Levinass thought see, e.g., Bernhard Casper, Illit. Zu
einem Schlssel Begriff im Werk von Emmanuel Levinas, Philosophisches Jahrbuch
2/91 (1984), pp. 27488; Bernhard Casper, Der Zugang zur Religion im Denken von Emmanuel
Levinas, Philosophisches Jahrbuch 2/95 (1988), pp. 26877.
67 Levinas, Totality and Infinity, p. 79.
68 For a critique of Levinass eschatology without hope, see Jrg Splett, ber Religion
nachdenken? in Denken vor Gott. Philosophie als Wahrheits-liebe (Frankfurt am Main: Verlag
Josef Knecht, 1996), pp. 41ff.
69 A very precise analysis of Fear and Trembling against the background of Kierkegaards
understanding of guilt and sin is to be found in: Anton Bsl, Unfreiheit und Selbstverfehlung. Sren
Kierkegaards existenzdialektische Bestimmung von Schuld und Snde (Freiburg im Breisgau:
Herder, 1997), pp. 295ff.
70 Cf. Jaques Derrida, The Gift of Death, p. 59.
71 Cf. Derrida, ibid., p. 61.
72 Ibid.
73 Ibid., p. 66.
74 Ibid., p. 67.
75 I can only briefly draw attention to another philosopher whose writings on responsibility
(and on natural law) prove most important: Robert Spaemann. Against the background of what one
might call a metaphysics of personhood, he has also offered an in-depth critique of the notion of infinite responsibility. Cf., e.g., Robert Spaemann, Verantwortung in Peter Geach, Fernando
Inciarte, Robert Spaemann, Persnliche Verantwortung (Kln: Adams Verlag, 1982), pp. 1132;
Robert Spaemann, Glck und Wohlwollen. Versuch ber Ethik (Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta, 1989),
pp. 222ff. A very good introduction into the main features of his philosophy is to be found in Arthur
Madigan, Robert Spaemanns Philosophische Essays in The Review of Metaphysics 51 (1997),
10532.
76 Walter S. Wurzburger, Ethics of Responsibility. Pluralistic Approaches to Covenantal Ethics
(Philadelphia/Cambridge: The Jewish Publication Society, 1994), pp. 4f.
77 Ibid., p. 5.
78 Cf. ibid., p. 6.
79 Ibid., p. 5.
80 Ibid., p. 111.
81 Ibid., p. 36. Cf. also Walter S. Wurzburger, The Centrality of Virtue-Ethics in Maimonides
in Ruth Link-Salinger (ed.), Of Scholars, Savants, and Their Texts: Studies in Philosophy and
Religious Thought. Essays in Honor of Arthur Hyman (New York: Peter Lang, 1989), pp. 25160.
82 Ibid., p. 71.
83 Joseph J. Kotva, The Christian Case for Virtue-Ethics (Washington: Georgetown University
Press, 1996), p. 38.
84 There was undoubtedly a very controversial discussion about the interpretation of these three
famous interviews which Sartre gave to his secretary and close friend Benny Lvy and which were
to be published in Le Nouvel Observateur. Simone de Beauvoir has denied that Sartres final thought
is to be discovered in these interviews: cf. Simone de Beauvoir, Adieux. A Farewell to Sartre,
translated by Patrick OBrian (London: Andr Deutsch and Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1984),
pp. 118ff. On page 119, de Beauvoir writes, that this vague, yielding philosophy that Victor attributed
to him did not suit Sartre at all. He who had never been open to any influence whatsoever was now
subjected to Victors. It must be said that, whether or not this is true, de Beauvoirs relation to
Benny Lvy was rather tensionfull. Emmanuel Levinas has stressed, that we have no reason to
doubt the exactness of the text (Levinas, A Language Familiar to us, p. 201). I follow Levinas, for
in contrast with his physical health, Sartres mental and intellectual abilities were fairly good until
his death.

ON FREEDOM AND RESPONSIBILITY

65

85 Benny Lvy, Todays Hope: Conversations with Sartre, Telos 44 (1980), pp. 15581, here
p. 155. But already in Existentialism and Humanism, Sartre argues in particular against Christian
reproaches of his philosophy, that it is only by self-deception, by confusing their own despair with
ours that Christians can describe us as without hope (p. 56).
86 Cf. Benny Lvy, Todays Hope, p. 180.
87 Jean-Paul Sartre, Truth and Existence, original text established and annotated by Arlette
Elkim-Sartre, translated by Adrian von den Hoven, edited and with an introduction by Ronal
Aronson (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1992), p. 35
88 Simone de Beauvoir, Adieux, p. 3.
89 Ibid., p. 127.

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