The third third: Levinas and "we"

Bert van Roermund*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


In Levinas's writings the phrase of `the third person' is used, first and foremost, to characterize the epiphany of `the Other' as someone who remains absent from any encounter with the first person, constituting an ever receding horizon of normativity (section 2). It is also used to introduce the instance of `le tiers', i.e., the vantage point of law, judging between parties who are first and second person to each other (section 3). Both of these `third persons' have major implications for our account of law. I will argue (section 4) that there is a third `third person', remaining remarkably absent from Levinas's thought as well as absent from the scene in which the first person is summoned by the second and the third. This third third person is hiding in a polity's plural selfhood, the `we, ourselves' whose is as evasive as `the Other', though on different grounds. Since positive law in Modernity is a political artefact, articulating the first-person plural in a Levinasian vein is a precondition for appreciating its relevance for the idea of law. A brief rehearsal of some main lines in Levinas's philosophy (section 1) prepares the ground for the three-staged argument.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)203-220
Number of pages18
JournalEtica & politica: rivista di filosofia
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Legal Orders
  • The Third
  • Collective Identity
  • Levinas


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