Becoming Stranger: Defending the Ethics of Absolute Hospitality in a Potentially Hostile World

in Religion and the Arts
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Abstract

Richard Kearney describes Derrida’s ethics of absolute hospitality as a “fine lesson in tolerance but not necessarily moral judgment.” This paper takes on Kearney’s insistence that ethics requires at least minimal practical discernments of the approaching other in order to safeguard the self in a hostile world. By examining Derrida’s phenomenological investigation into hospitality and combining his conclusions with the ethical practices of desert nomads and ethical luminaries such as Gandhi, this paper unveils that ethics at its heart is a call to vulnerability. As such, any assertion of a power to judge the other is already a violation of the ethical call. Kearney’s search for an ethics of phronetic judgments, no matter how tentative, is challenged as ultimately a desire to eliminate the very vulnerability that makes us human.

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