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Friday, October 27, 2006 

Levinas on Remorse
Topic: Philosophy

Levinas and the Inner Demons: Guilt and Atonement

Having already begun the article here and here, we continue here with Levinas dealing with remorse.


Remorse has a much less varied relationship to guilt than shame did, as we shall see. Steven Tudor shows that in Levinas, remorse is characterized as the suffering acknowledgement of one’s having wronged the Other. Remorse is the realization of my involvement in the Other’s suffering. This sounds practically exactly the same thing as guilt. Nonetheless, guilt is more in the sense of the self offending or trespassing against the authority of the Other over the self.[1] Remorse, when distinguished from guilt, is the passive act; the sudden dawning of consciousness that all that is wrong is partially my fault. In contrast, guilt is now the active, flagrant violating of the Other that is my pre-meditated, carried out violence against any other. While this is a helpful distinction, one can see that it is easy to muddy the waters, and for the planes of remorse and guilt to occasionally overlap.

For instance, suppose I quite suddenly realize that my clothing company has put thousands of Third World workers in a factory over the sea “out of their place in the sun and into the cold;” that they are being harshly treated and underpaid. Remorse sets in over my acts, that I have done these things.[2] Unfortunately, due to my wicked greed and other despicable traits, I do not change anything with my company. Indeed, now I act purposefully. This is now guilt. However, where guilt started and remorse ends is not a clear-cut distinction.

Perhaps then, the best distinctive to be used in thinking about remorse and guilt is to distinguish by time. Without one exception, every time remorse is used with guilt in Levinas, it comes before in the mind of the individual. In this sense, we can think of remorse as a priori guilt. With this in mind, it will help us to clarify the usage of remorse in his texts.

So we have seen the immense emphasis guilt has in the works of Levinas, and how guilt’s little sisters, shame and remorse, interact and behave with and apart from guilt. We have seen how guilt is both relational and subjective. This is an aspect of his work that we simply cannot overlook. This is his anthropology. This prevents us from onto-theo-logy. If Levinas were to write a summa, his foundation would be here.

[1]Tudor Compassion and Remorse p. 152. Back

[2]Interestingly, this is probably where it would be good to note the genitive case of shame. Not only does remorse set in, I also now come under the realization that the Other sees me in my transgression, and I cannot escape her gaze on me. Back

[Levinas] | [remorse]


That is great to hear, thank you for reading!

That is great to hear, thank you for reading!

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Transplanted from the artic blight of Minnesota to the sunny paradise of SoCal, I am attending school and learning to say "dude." I like to think of myself as equal parts surf rash, Batman, heavy metal, Levinas, poetic license, and reformational. Other than creating blund blogs, I enjoy reading, sporting, and socializing with serious and funny people.
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