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Frontiers of Philosophy in China

Front. Philos. China    2016, Vol. 11 Issue (3) : 501-520
Orginal Article
Tianming and the Other: Rethinking the Source of Responsibility in the Zhong Yong and Emmanuel Levinas
Sai Hang Kwok()
Division of Humanities, The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Hong Kong, China
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“Everyone will readily agree that it is of the highest importance to know whether we are not duped by morality,” says Emmanuel Levinas in the preface to Totality and Infinity. Why is ethical inquiry a meaningful and necessary task? This is a universal question with which all contemplation of ethics should grapple. This paper aims to show that both the Other in Levinas and the “Heavenly-command (tianming 天命)” in the Zhong Yong 中庸 indicate that human beings are called to be passively ethical. The passivity of ethical responsibility is, however, not caused by a divine moral power, but can be seen in three characteristics that mark ethics: 1) the exposure to the other, 2) the time of diachrony and 3) the aporetic moment of ethical response. Ethical responsibility is commanded before one’s initiative to be ethical and is therefore prior to moral subjectivity. Moreover, a moral life is accomplished only in sincerely responding to this command of ethical responsibility. This opens up a kind of activity called “sincerity (cheng 誠).” The source of responsibility therefore lies in a passive ethical situation that calls upon an active ethical response. This ethical responsibility is the foundation of all ethical inquiry.

Keywords Levinas      Zhong Yong       passivity      responsibility     
Issue Date: 19 September 2016
 Cite this article:   
Sai Hang Kwok. Tianming and the Other: Rethinking the Source of Responsibility in the Zhong Yong and Emmanuel Levinas[J]. Front. Philos. China, 2016, 11(3): 501-520.
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