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Levinas Studies

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published on March 30, 2021

Brigitta Keintzel

The Other as Categorical Imperative: Levinas’s Reading of Kant

For Kant and Levinas, the categorical imperative is the only possible formula for universalization. It has a structural necessity. Its claim is ultimate, valid without exception, and therefore reason-based. What differentiates Levinas from Kant is Kant’s assumption that “pure reason, practical of itself” is “immediately lawgiving.” Levinas contradicted this form of reason legislating itself as an end in itself: according to Levinas, reason has no self-generated power. Although both agree that the achievement of an ethical insight depends on “passivity,” in contrast to Kant Levinas does not consider this “passivity” to be part of a conceptual insight. Its place is outside the subject. Instead of an “archetype” that already exists in the subject, Levinas advocates the conception of a counter-image whose form is based on the face. This face is not speechless. His speech is based on a universalizable commandment, namely the commandment: You shall not kill me. In its full extent, this claim can only be understood via a body-based understanding of the categorical imperative.

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