Others in the Ether: On Levinasian Internet Ethics by Design

By Jacqueline Davies.

Published by The Design Collection

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The foundational metaphor in Emmanuel Levinas’s radically demanding ethics is the face to face encounter. The virtual encounters that are facilitated by new communications technology constitute potential challenges to this. To the extent that literal face to face encounters are made obsolete or are marginalized by new communications technologies, our opportunities and capacities for ethical relations are diminished. At least, it would seem so at first glance. Deeper reflection proves Levinas’s metaphor to be subtler and more resistant to such challenges. Levinasian ethics may perhaps provide better resources with which to think through and respond to challenges generated by new communications technologies and the corresponding incapacity of more traditional moral theories to cope with them. On the other hand, at least one pair of questions that emerges from our deeper reflections reveals a more intransigent difficulty. Can we respond to forces that may diminish our ethical capacities by designing virtual spaces that are more inviting to the Other? Should we design virtual spaces that more effectively enable the Other’s interruption of technologically nourished solipsism? Maybe so, but a Levinasian account of ethics, I argue, would temper enthusiasm for designing more ethical virtual encounters. The problem lies less in the tension between virtual reality and ethical relations and more with the inherent paradox of ethics by design. Gestures toward a solution draw on the resources provided by Donna Haraway’s cyborg feminism.

Keywords: Internet Ethics, Design Ethics, New Communications Technologies, Levinas, Heidegger, Haraway

Design Principles and Practices: An International Journal, Volume 3, Issue 5, pp.277-292. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.188MB).

Dr. Jacqueline Davies

Associate Professor, Department of Philosophy, Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada

Associate Professor of Philosophy, Cross Appointed to the Department of Women’s Studies and Faculty Advisor to the Jewish Studies Program at Queen’s University. Current research and teaching focusses on twentieth century continental philosophy. Particular orientation is directed to Emmanuel Levinas, epecially as viewed through the lens of 20th and 21st century aesthetic and communications technologies (cinema, medical imaging, and the internet). Feminist reception of Levinas and the textual reasoning movement in Jewish Studies provide further tools for this work. Recent publications include Premature (M)Othering: Levinasian ethics and the politics of fetal ultrasound imaging in Embodiment and Agency: New Essays in Feminist Philosophy. Sue Campbell, Letita Meynell, and Susan Sherwin eds. (Penn State University Press, 2009).

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