Much debate has been held over the question of whether Hans-Georg Gadamer’s hermeneutic approach to ethics and the other can do justice to the alterity of the other, as exemplified in Emmanuel Levinas’s approach to ethics as first philosophy. The challenge to Gadamer and to hermeneutics more generally, comes obliquely from Levinas and more directly, from Robert Bernasconi, who argues that Gadamer cannot account for an otherness that ends in incomprehensibility as one finds in encounters between persons of asymmetrical power relations—oppressed and oppressor, privileged and marginalized. Bernasconi’s critique has resulted in a flurry of hermeneutic responses that insist that Gadamer’s hermeneutics can, if understood in the right way, accommodate the other and serve as the foundation for robust ethical treatment of the other. I argue in this paper that participants in this debate have been insufficiently attentive to the ontologies that underlie the accounts of self and other in Gadamer and in Levinas. Because Gadamer and Levinas begin from different ontologies, their accounts of ethics and of the ground of ethics differ.
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