The Face of the Other in Emmanuel Levinas and Aleksey Ukhtomsky

Author: Aleksandr BELAREV

Abstract. This article compares the ethical concepts of the Russian physiologist and philosopher Aleksey A. Ukhtomsky and the French philosopher Emmanuel Levinas. Both use the word "face" as a philosophical term. It examines the "face" as a key image used by both authors to understand the meaning of dialogue and social interaction. The fact that the Russian word litso ("face") has two different meanings (a "person" and a "human face") was very important for Ukhtomsky. To better understand the term "face" as used by Levinas one has to bear in mind the complex interaction of the Russian, Hebrew and French languages that shaped his linguistic consciousness. Both philosophers considered ethics to be philosophia prima. The encounter with "the other face" or "the face of the Other" is seen by Ukhtomsky and Levinas as the central event in the development of the personality. For Levinas, the study of the face was a way to transcend the limits of phenomenology because the face is not a "standard" phenomenon. For Ukhtomsky, the image of the face had to do with the limitation (non-inclusiveness) of natural sciences. It was part of his search for non-theoretical knowledge that took into account the individual, not just general, and that could describe not only inanimate objects and impersonal structures. Both thinkers sought to reinterpret religious tradition in the context of contemporary science and philosophy. Ukhtomsky follows his own path to arrive at the idea of asymmetrical relationship between the "I" and the "Other" independently of Levinas. It is not by chance that Levinas describes the experience of an encounter with the Other as a kind of epiphany, while Ukhtomsky calls God "the First and the Ultimate Interlocutor." The encounter with the Other for both philosophers is essentially a mundane, everyday analogue of the Revelation.


A. Belarev, post-graduate student, Gorky Institute of World Literature, Russian Academy of Sciences. E-mail:abelarev@gmail.com. This article was first published in ...

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