Volume 40, Issue 1, Spring/Summer 2011
J. Aaron Simmons, Jay McDaniel
Levinas and Whitehead
Notes Toward a Conversation To Come
Alfred North Whitehead and Emmanuel Levinas are not often considered together in the contemporary philosophical literature. There are clearly sensible reasons for this. While Whitehead is a systematic thinker who explicitly engages in metaphysical philosophy within the tradition of process thought and who
does not focus primarily on ethics, Levinas is resistant to systematic metaphysics and works within the phenomenological tradition in order to argue that ethics
is first philosophy. Despite these significant points of contrast between Whitehead and Levinas, in this paper we argue that the two might stand as resources for each other in various ways. Since this paper is meant to be explorative and suggestive rather than comprehensive and conclusive, we argue for just two possible points of resonance between these important philosophers: (1) Both Levinas and Whitehead develop an account of selfhood that is intrinsically relational and concerned with responsibility—we term this account “Ethical Subjectivity;” and (2) Both Levinas and Whitehead operate according to what we call a “Hermeneutics of the Other” that stresses epistemic humility and dialogical openness.