Before the Voice of Reason

Echoes of Responsibility in Merleau-Ponty's Ecology and Levinas's Ethics

By David Michael Kleinberg-Levin

Subjects: Philosophy, Phenomenology, Ethics, Environmental Philosophy
Series: SUNY series in Contemporary French Thought
Paperback : 9780791475508, 306 pages, July 2009
Hardcover : 9780791475492, 306 pages, September 2008

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Table of contents


1. A Human Voice

2. The Project

3. The Ethical Root of the Voice

4. The Voice of Reason

5. Reconciling Voices: the Political Register

6. Conversation

7. Reading This Book


Part I. The Singing of the World Variations on a Theme After Merleau-Ponty

Chapter 1. The Remembrance of Nature in the Voice of the Subject 


1. Invocations of Nature

2. The Song of the Winds

3. The Song of the Earth


Chapter 2. The Question of Origins  


1. Silence

2. Song


Chapter 3. The Voice of Ecological Attunement in a Practice of Caring for the Self 


1. Prologue  

2. The Singing of Language

3. Caring for Oneself:   The Three Phase-Dimensions of the Voice  

4. Dying Echoes: What Must Be Remembered


Part II. Levinas On the Claim of the Ethical

Chapter 4. The Saying and the Said: Giving Time to the Voice of the Other


1. Unavoidable Violence   

2. Responsibility: Claiming the Voice

3. Inspiration

4. Heterology, Heteronomy: The Lyrical Voice

5. The Ethical Dimensions of the Voice 

6. Ethical Saying: The Claim in Dialogue


Chapter 5. The Pre-Originary Dimension of Saying


1. Preliminary Soundings 

2. The Voice of Reason

3. The Pre-Originary Voice

4. Palimpsest: The Trace of the Other in the Text of our Flesh, or, The  Echo of the Other in the Trembling of the Flesh


5. Enigmatic Echoes: Retrieving the Trace


Provides a critique of reason, demanding that we take greater responsibility for nature and other people.


Before the Voice of Reason is a phenomenological critique of reason grounded in our experience of the voices that already address us and summon us prior to the emergence of the voice of reason. In part one, David Michael Kleinberg-Levin explores the voices of nature and draws on Merleau-Ponty's phenomenology to offer a new way of thinking about environmental responsibility. In part two, he looks at the voice of the moral law and the voices of other human beings, advances a more nuanced account of Levinas's distinction between "Saying" and "Said," and proposes a new argument for our responsibility to the other.

David Michael Kleinberg-Levin is Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at Northwestern University. He is the author of several books, including Gestures of Ethical Life: Reading Hölderlin's Question of Measure After Heidegger and The Philosopher's Gaze: Modernity in the Shadows of Enlightenment.


"Kleinberg-Levin is that rare phenomenologist who continually 'does phenomenology,' instead of just talking about its necessity. He finds in Merleau-Ponty's work the concrete phenomena of childhood and language progression that justifies the distinctions that are made about the priority of the phenomena. Kleinberg-Levin demands that phenomenological description not be speculative and metaphysical, but rather have a basis in the human developmental process. The work on Levinas in the second half of the book is equally exquisite, if not more so. " — Glen A. Mazis, author of Earthbodies: Rediscovering Our Planetary Senses

"Kleinberg-Levin has brilliantly rendered the phenomenology and ontology of Merleau-Ponty and the ethical philosophy of alterity developed by Levinas as an address to the ecological crisis of the earth and sky. He has done so with both wide-ranging scholarly erudition and a sense of practical urgency. This is a work of true philosophical wisdom for our times, written in a voice of compassion and strength. " — Galen A. Johnson, author of Earth and Sky, History and Philosophy: Island Images Inspired by Husserl and Merleau-Ponty