Responsible Subjects

On the Ability to Respond to Transcendence

  • Tamsin Jones Trinity College, Hartford, CT


This essay reflects on the constitution of subjectivity in relation to transcendence specifically through an analysis of responsibility. The openness to re-thinking transcendence in continental philosophy led to a corollary re-thinking of subjectivity as constituted in response to otherness or transcendence, in such a way, however, that emphasized the utter passivity of the subject. This essay attempts to forge a path forward for thinking about the constitution of responsible subjectivity, beyond the ruinous alternative of either the subjugating or subjugated self, to a subject able to respond to transcendence in such a way that does not threaten the inviolability of transcendence. Deliberating with, and beyond, Jean Wahl, Emmanuel Levinas, and Kelly Oliver, this essay argues that the various accounts of responsibility found in Jewish and Christian scriptures can provide an articulation of subjectivity as constituted by its relation to transcendence, in which transcendence is understood as both a movement and an end—a movement undertaken by a self towards that which remains ever other.

Keywords: Emmanuel Levinas, Jean Wahl, Kelly Oliver, transcendence, responsibility, subjectivity, witness, trauma, phenomenology, theology

How to Cite
JONES, Tamsin. Responsible Subjects. Diakrisis Yearbook of Theology and Philosophy, [S.l.], v. 1, p. 61-75, may 2018. ISSN 2601-7415. Available at: <>. Date accessed: 21 sep. 2020. doi: