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