Teaching Philosophy

Volume 44, Issue 3, September 2021

Teaching in a Time of Crisis

Nathan Eric DickmanOrcid-ID
Pages 255-279

Physical Distance, Ethical Proximity
Levinasian Dialogue as Pandemic Pedagogy in Faceless (Masked or Online) Classrooms

I develop Levinas’s analysis of “proximity” to explain how successful faceless class dialogues are possible despite physical social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic. I first examine features of Levinas’s notion of proximity within his idiosyncratic approach to “ethics.” Second, I turn to Levinas’s examination of intentionality and questioning in relation to the hermeneutic priority of questioning. Third, I detail some successes and failures in attempts to embody Levinasian proximity in online or masked discussions with students. I draw out contrasts between experiences at two different institutions as well as between curricular and extracurricular experiences. I do this to expose my own vulnerability in this essay itself. Given pandemic conditions as well as Levinas’s theory of proximity, I found that many masked or virtual class discussions—but especially extracurricular group discussions, such as a philosophy club and the Black Student Union meetings—maintained a closeness of community despite social distancing.