Continental Philosophy Review

, Volume 37, Issue 2, pp 153–173 | Cite as

Speech and sensibility: Levinas and Habermas on the constitution of the moral point of view

  • Steven HendleyEmail author


For Habermas, a moral point of view is based in the procedural requirements of our linguistic competence. For Levinas, it is the way in which we find ourselves related in speech to the face of the other that we find ourselves obliged to the other. But these differing conceptions of the moral significance of language need not be seen as opposed to each other. Rather, they can be conceptualized as complimentary accounts of the ways in which a moral point of view onto life is inextricably bound up for us with our capacities as linguistic creatures. While Habermas enables us to see the importance of language as a rule-governed social practice for the constitution of a moral point of view, Levinas draws our attention to the way in which the moral significance of language so conceived lies in a form of sensibility, a sensible “exposure” or “vulnerability” to the other person, older than language itself. Appropriately coordinated, these two perspectives give us a more adequate understanding than either can on its own of the central place of language in our lives as moral agents.


Social Practice Political Philosophy Moral Agent Central Place Adequate Understanding 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science + Business Media, Inc. 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyBirmingham-Southern CollegeBirminghamUSA

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