Being-with the Other by Being Answerable to the Other

For a long time, human relations are under siege. Religious people have often concentrated more on the vertical, human-God relations while neglecting the inter-human as well human-cosmic relations. After Modernity, self-interest has become central in politics and economics in our society. This has corrupted all human relations. We can notice how we give concessions to the ideals of inter-human sympathy and fairness. Even Kant dismissed friendship in favour of abstract rational impartial rules of justice. This is completely different from the manner in which Aristotle treated friendship as an ethical bond that holds together a city while’s its decay becomes the harbinger of civil war or tyranny. Unfortunately, modern philosophy privatized friendship and ethical life in general and leaving room only for self-interest to dictate the public domain. Fortunately, thinkers like Jacques Derrida tried to bring the discussion on friendship back into the mainstream. We can also notice how hope Francis also tried to bring friendship to the centre stage with his encyclical Fratelli Tutti and called us to reclaim the nobility of friendship and political acts.

In the encyclical Fratelli Tutti, while challenging us to open ourselves to the stranger, we are faced with the curvature of the social space that is marked by heteronomy and asymmetry (dark clouds). The call to new forms of social friendship echoed in Fratelli Tutti indicates that friendship is never given in the present. It always remains in the promise. Its discourse is one of prayer and commitment that makes us open to new modes of belonging together. Friendship, therefore, enters the performativity of prayer where the modern self for itself turns into the Levinasian self that is answerable to the Other. This answerability to the Other is the ethical basis of friendship. The principle of answerability is universal as well as singular. As universal, it is ‘answerability before’ a law, nation, tradition, political community etc. This means we are answerable before the tribunal that represents or stands for the Other who is a singular Other. As singular, on the other hand, it stands for the imperative of the singular Other. This imperative triggers a singular encounter that enables us ‘to be answerable to’ the singular Other.

The Other is unnamed and unnameable both in Levinas and Derrida. Levinas teaches that this answerability occurs in the singular encounter with the other. It asserts the absolute singularity and irreducibility of the other. Derrida teaches that this ‘singular answerability to’ the other easily dissolves in ‘the answerability before’ the one that represents the Other, the law or the political community ( nation) that becomes the ultimate tribunal and therefore, our moral response then gets reduced to justice alone where justice is interpreted as being in accordance to the law. The story of the good Samaritan, introduced by Pope Francis for our reflection in his encyclical Fratelli Tutti embodies the passage of the singular answerability dissolving into an ‘answerability before’ a law or tradition in the response of the Jewish priest and the Levite who ignore the ailing stranger and move to keep the law while we can also see how Jesus transgresses it through the good Samaritan who is the chief character in the parable. The good Samaritan remains submerged into the singularity of the encounter. He stays with the imperative that calls him to answerability to the wounded stranger and does not jump to the universal deduction that enables us to jump from the mode of being ‘answerable to’ to the mode of being ‘ answerable before’. This jump from ‘being answerable to’ through a singular encounter that stays in the moral realm moves to the mode of ‘being answerable before’ the law or tribunal. This also means the singular moral response of love dies into justice that remains only the realm of law and tradition. We need justice seasoned with love and mercy which is lived in the warmth of friendship/ being-with. It requires a new affirmative politics that takes not the only responsibility of the human family but each human person.

We can see how Jesus in public ministry transgresses the imperative of ‘being answerable before’ the law, and tradition and clearly chooses ‘being answerable to’ the person who is sick, afflicted by the devil, considered a sinner by society etc. He clearly transgress the imperative that calls us to ‘be answerable before’ and embraces ‘being answerable to’ the singular call of the suffering Other. This is why Pope Francis challenges us to give up our excesses of individualism, consumerism, nationalism etc. His message is very important at this time of covid-19 as we can all be only safe by making each human being singularly safe. Only by converting ourselves to the culture of care that lives in friendly bonds, we can save ourselves and the world. In fact, paradoxically we have no choice but to get out of the traps of modernity and choose ‘to be answerable to’ and not ‘answerable before’. In fact, we become ‘answerable before’ by ‘being answerable to’.

It is by reaching out to the stranger that the Good Samaritan truly became just. It is by giving a singular response of love to the call of the other through the singular encounter that we can truly become just. This face to face bonding of friendship is the true way of being with the other. It is the way of being-with. Therefore, being answerable to the Other remains at the heart of friendship. This does not mean that we are thrown between the binary of ‘being answerable to’ and ‘being answerable before’ or we have to choose between love (friendship) or justice. In fact, we become just through love’. In the same way, we become ‘answerable before’ God, law, tradition, nation etc., only by being answerable to the suffering Other. We live the generality of law only by living it in an encounter. This means love/friendship and justice belong together. Being-with, therefore, challenges us to be answerable to the Other of our being-with. It is only through ‘being answerable to’ the Other of our being-with that we can become truly ‘answerable before’ God, law, tradition, nation etc.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao