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The Face of a Dog
Levinas and the Animal
Frech philosopher Emmanuel Levinas is worldly renowned for his ethical concerns, emphasizing our unconditioned welcome to the other, and his philosophy has exerted a great influence upon the studies of ethics in the 20th century. This paper intends to employ Levinasian ethics as the theoretical framework to explore the question: whether the animal can be regarded as the other that enjoys the unconditioned welcome. Since Levinas’s ethics is based on a human-to-human relation, the animal seems to have been excluded form the ethical concern in the first place. In his “The Name of a Dog, or Natural Right,” however, Levinas claims that a stray dog he encountered in the concentration camp is “the last Kantian in Nazi Germany.” This paper begins with the discussion of major ethical issues in Levinas’s philosophy, such as hospitality, the other, the face, language, and their different applications to human beings and the animals; these different applications nonetheless result in a serious double standard. The way for Levinas to solve this problematic is to resort to the cultural significance represented by the animal, but once this purpose is fulfilled, the symbolic dimension of the animal automatically vanishes; human is human, and animal remains animal. The gap between human and animal can never be traversed. This is a conclusion form Levinas’s experience with the Nazi. If human being can be animal, the atrocity of Nazi can be interpreted as part of the natural process in terms of biological revolution. This logical conclusion forces Levinas to build up his ethics on the necessity of a hierarchy. To Levinas, the animal can never be our guest.
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