The face is what forbids us to kill — English

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The face is what forbids us to kill

The face is exposed, menaced, as if inviting us to an act of violence. At the same time, the face is what forbids us to kill.

The face is a living presence; it is expression. (...) The face speaks. 

the face speaks to me and thereby invites me to a relation.

What we call the face is precisely this exceptional presentation of self by self.

  • Source : Ethics and Infinity, pp. 85-86, 194, 198, 202, transcribing a series of radio dialogues on the French radio station "France Culture"
  • Publication date : 1982 (French), 1985 (English)
  • Commentary :

    The concept behind this quote is essential for understanding how to prevent violence.

    What it means is that to do violence against another human being, you first need to dehumanise that person in your mind, whereas if one looks into the face of your aimed-at target and see the living human being (what he calls the living presence), one's violent pulsions will be transformed and thus stopped. 

    In other words, if one follows moral values, without human values, then violence will prevail, whereas if one's ethical guide are one's human values, then the urge to do violence to another is stopped in its tracks when one is able to see into the other person, through his/her face.