In recent years, there have been a number of attempts to connect enactivism with the work of Emmanuel Levinas. This essay is such an attempt. Its major theme is the relationship between affectivity and ethics. My touchstones in enactivist thought are Giovanna Colombetti and Steve Torrances’ “Emotion and Ethics: an (inter-)enactive account” (2009) and the influential concept of participatory sense-making developed by Hanne De Jaegher and Ezequiel Di Paolo (2007). With respect to Levinas, I deploy major insights from Totality and Infinity and Otherwise than Being. I first show that enactivist thought (thus represented) and Levinas roughly agree on three points: the fundamentality of human affectivity; the ethical significance of affective response to the other; the interpersonal nature of sense-making. I then consider some difficulties with Colombetti and Torrance’s conception of interaction-responsibility, which is based on De Jaegher and Di Paolo’s formulation of interaction-autonomy, and use Levinas to draw attention to the role of passivity and asymmetry in interaction in a way so far overlooked by enactivist thinkers. Working through a problem case yields insights for both perspectives. I argue, first, that ethics does not arise from interaction but instead should be considered foundational for interaction as such. Second, we must distinguish between a participant and observer perspective on interaction in a way not yet carried out by enactivist thinkers. Third, the method of enactivist research exemplified by Colombetti and Torrance can help make phenomenologically manifest important insights into Levinas’ difficult concept of “the third”.
Lenzo, E. A. (2022). Ethics of interaction: Levinas and Enactivism on affectivity, responsibility, and signification. Middle Voices, 2 (1). Retrieved from https://dsc.duq.edu/middle_voices/vol2/iss1/5