Continental Philosophy Review

, Volume 40, Issue 3, pp 331–347 | Cite as

Ethical alterity and asymmetrical reciprocity: A Levinasian reading of Works of Love

  • Michael R. Paradiso-MichauEmail author


Following and extending the recent tradition of Kierkegaard–Levinas comparativists, this essay offers a Levinasian commentary on salient aspects of Kierkegaard’s ethico-religious deliberations in Works of Love, a text that we are unsure whether or not Levinas actually read. Against some post/modern interpreters, I argue that one should adopt both a Jewish and a Christian perspective (rather than an oversimplified either/or point of view) in exploring the sometimes “seamless passages” between Kierkegaard and Levinas’s thought. The first argument of this essay is that interhuman ethical relationships, as seen by Kierkegaard and Levinas, are premised upon an original asymmetry or inequality. Ethical alterity requires more on the part of the responsible I for the destitute Other. However, this original ethical alterity is not at all the last word in loving and healthy human relationships. In the second section of this study, a dual asymmetry on the part of each participating human yields an “asymmetrical reciprocity,” or in Kierkegaard’s words, “infinity on both sides.” While they are of no concern␣to me, your ethical duties to me are revealed to you upon our face-to-face encounter.

Here I offer a Kierkegaardian–Levinasian response to Hegel’s and Buber’s thoughts that humans essentially desire recognition, mutuality, and reciprocity from one another in intersubjective relationships. Hegel and Buber are more or less correct, but when seen from a Kierkegaardian and Levinasian perspective, we are offered resources for understanding more precisely how and why their accounts are accurate. Hegel and Buber offer us the second phase of the argument, whereas Kierkegaard and Levinas show us the first and primary phase of interhuman relationships – the revealed and infinite ethical responsibility to the Other person.


Radical Alterity Unconditional Love Erotic Love Preferential Love Intersubjective Relationship 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Philosophy and Literature ProgramPurdue UniversityWest LafayetteUSA

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