Claire Katz Keynote Address 10.28.2011

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Who: Dr. Claire Katz; Copeland Fellow at Amherst College, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Director of Women’s and Gender Studies Program at Texas A&M.

When: Friday October 28, 2011 @ 5:30pm

Where: EESAT 110

What: UNT PST 11 Keynote Address: “”… an innate repugnance to see a fellow creature suffer”: Self-Sufficiency and Ethical Subjectivity in Rousseau and Levinas”

Keynote Description: “How does someone develop ethically?” This question occupies the 18th century philosopher, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, in several of his writings. In his Second Discourse (1755), Rousseau offers two principles of human nature as a counter to Hobbes’ claim that we have only the innate sense of self-preservation. If that were the case, Rousseau concludes, we would be monsters. But we are not. He offers then a second principle, which is “an innate repugnance to see his fellow suffer.” But having an innate repugnance to see my fellow suffer will not alone keep me from being a monster in a different sense. In this essay, and later in his Social Contract (1762) and in Emile (1762) Rousseau expresses his concerns with the development of an intellect that is not anchored by a good character. Emile offers an attempt at an educational project based on self-sufficiency that will mitigate those concerns. Yet, it seems clear even to Rousseau he fails in this endeavor.

Two hundred years later and responding to the horrors of Nazi Germany, Emmanuel Levinas shares Rousseau’s suspicions of the political community. However Levina’ss philosophical essays collected in Humanism of the Other (1967-1971) and his writings on Jewish education, collected in Difficult Freedom, respond to the mythology of self-sufficiency that characterize Rousseau’s political philosophy and much of the modern Enlightenment project. In short, “self–sufficiency,” and the educational models this produced sum up everything that Levinas believed went wrong with modernity. Levinas’s ethical project exchanges self-sufficiency for dependence, vulnerability, and turning toward the suffering of the other—the new traits of ethical subjectivity—and his educational model describes how we might cultivate this subject.

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