Ethics as First Philosophy: Responses to Skepticism in Levinas and Cavell

  • Bernardo Andrade (Speaker)

Activity: Talk or presentation typesOral presentationScientific


Talk at the Spring Student Symposium, Middlebury College

In this paper, I develop a comparison between two disparate thinkers--Stanley Cavell and Emmanuel Levinas--in their similar responses to what they call the “scandal” of other-mind skepticism. Cavell argues that using the other person’s outward manifestations as a criterion of her inner states does not suffice to obviate this problem and instead offers an interpretation of Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations wherein the skeptical danger is embedded in ordinary language. Levinas, in turn, argues that the other person whom one addresses in the vocative (in what he calls “the Saying”) cannot be reduced to a term within a language (what he calls “the Said”). This leads both Cavell and Levinas to conclude that the ethical responsibility to acknowledge the other’s pain (Cavell) and to respond to her call of destitution (Levinas) cannot depend on our certainty about the other’s inner states. The upshot of my comparison is that both Cavell’s and Levinas’s responses to other-mind skepticism can be understood as leading to the radical statement, attributed to Levinas, that “ethics is first philosophy.”
PeriodMay 2018
Held atMiddlebury College, United States
Degree of RecognitionLocal


  • Levinas
  • Cavell
  • Skepticism
  • Ethics