An Examination of Levinas's Notion of Responsibility and Human situation in Nigeria


Esikot, I. F., Adahada, G.


Human situation refers to the salient conditions of daily human existence including its economic and social states among others. These conditions are vital to human welfare and vary from one country to another. In Nigeria, the human condition is characterized by hardship and suffering due to incommensurate government response to the welfare needs of the citizens as well as inadequate assistance to the poor class by the wealthy citizens. If this condition is not checked, the human condition in Nigeria will aggravate the already bad situation and as well as deepen the different kinds of unrests. In response to the need to address this deplorable and problematic human situation, Levinas' notion of responsibility serves as a plausible theoretical framework. This paper interrogated the human situation in Nigeria vis-à-vis Levinas' conception of responsibility. It used the qualitative method of critical analyses to solicit hospitality towards the poor class. The paper found out that Levinas' notion of responsibility is the apt theory for addressing the deplorable human situation in Nigeria. Since Nigeria is made up of people of different economic and social classes, the paper recommended that the political leaders and the wealthy class should show appropriate responsibility to the poor class by helping them to provide for their welfare needs for improved human situation.


Levinas, Responsibility, Human, Situation, solidarity, Nigeria


Human beings are faced with different situations and predicaments in life, one of which is suffering. In most constituted nations, the primary obligation of government is to ensure human welfare and to protect lives and properties. Adherence to this obligation impacts the human situation in the respective nation. Furthermore, Non-Governmental Organizations and private individuals also impact society. Since society is also a social construct, there exists social and economic classes which are of unequal capacities but must coexist. Their coexistence reveals the strength and weakness of each in coping with the realities of their daily lives. Those in the wealthy class can afford their daily needs but the poor cannot. In this scenario, the wealthy are looked up to for assistance by the poor ones. The assistance in question underscores Levinas' intuition in his notion of responsibility


In Emmanuel Levinas's notion of responsibility, the wealthy and powerful, are refer to as the “subject /I”; the poor and weak ones, are called the “Other”. Levinas's notion of responsibility does not bear out the ordinary meaning. Thus, by responsibility, he means that everyone is made to serve the Other and that one's life is meaningful in his service for the Other. Specifically, he avers that “I speak of responsibility as the essential, primary and fundamental structure of subjectivity…I understand responsibility as responsibility for the Other, thus as responsibility for what is not my deed” (Levinas, 1985: 95). On this Levinas's thought, Sean Hand comments: “His post rational ethics stands as the ultimate and exemplary challenge to the solitude of Being, a rigorous testimony of one's infinite obligation to the other person” (1989: v). Hand eulogizes Levinas's novelty in constructing heteronomous ethics of solidarity for the otherness. Against the idea that one is alone, Levinas demonstrates that we are for one another. Being so passionate with and being responsible for everyone, “we are all guilty of all and for all men before all, and I more than the others” (Dostoyevsky, 1954: 264), becomes one of Levinas's favorite quotes. This quote can be re-rendered as 'we are all responsible for everyone, but I am more responsible than all others'. This quote already points to the trajectory of Levinas's notion of responsibility. Man is a being whose responsibility for the welfare of the Other existed before him and goes beyond his personal affairs. It is in this sense that Levinas defines responding subject as always available and sufficient to answer to everyone and in everything, and responsibility as that which is natural to human being. Levinas's notion of responsibility is an advocacy for a better human situation. The human situation in Nigeria could be described in the Heideggerian “thrownness”. This explains that Nigerians are seemingly left to their fate because of the current realities. There is a wide divide between the class of I/subject and Other. Everyone that could be likened as the I/subject seems to be in his comfortable zone and minding less of what becomes of the Other. This experience descends from the highest echelon of government to the lowest. Institutions and government agencies are not left out. Private individuals also seem to care less about the poor masses. A close investigation reveals the absence of responsibility as Levinas espouses. This paper reveals and argues that Levinas's notion of responsibility is a clarion call for hospitality and solidarity to the “Other” class by those in the “I/subject” class.


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