This essay interprets the implications of Levinas and Bonhöffer's idea of ethics of responsibility. Through this interpretation, similarities of ethical motivations between the greatest philosopher and the respectable theologian in 20c is revealed naturally. First of all, Levinas gives ethics the status of first philosophy. By ethics, Levinas does not mean a quest for personal accomplishment, but the responsibility to the Other from which the ego cannot escape and which is the secret of its uniqueness: no one can replace me in the discharge of this responsibility. The Other is not the object of knowledge, representation or comprehension; we do not grasp the Other. Nor is the Other the object of a description. What can be said positively about this Other is just that he/she evades all that we know, that evades Being. The Other is the “face,” not in the sense of a face “seen,”; the “face” obligates me and demands response, help, solicitude, compassion. And thus we come to the expression that is perhaps the most often employed by Levinas: “unlimited responsibility to the Other.” The relation to the Other is fundamentally asymmetrical in Levinas. It is not an encounter between two people on equal footing, nor is it a friendship based on reciprocity. The unexpected arrival of the Other wrests the ego from its condition, and places it in a relation of infinite obligation.
For Bonhöffer, Christian ethics is a matter of “formation” into the likeness of Jesus Christ, of “conformation” with the unique form of him who was made man, was crucified, and rose again. The World is the sphere of concrete responsibility which is given to us in and through Jesus Christ, it follows that man must live and act in responsibility and thereby allow the world ever anew to disclose its essential character to him. Responsible action is limited by our recognition of the responsibility of the other person. Responsible action is not its own master, because it is not unlimited and arrogant but humble, that it can be sustained by an ultimate joy and confidence. And the structure of the responsible life includes both freedom and readiness to accept guilt, but only on the ground of selfless love for the Other.
Consequently, according to Levinas and Bonhöffer, we have to be responsible for what the others do or suffer. This status of being stranger, widow, and orphan, whose very epiphany summons us to respond.