Of the various models of politeness which have been advanced, Brown and Levinson's is the one which most specifically claims its pancultural validity, and therefore its potential application to intercultural studies. However, a number of works have argued that this model is seriously flawed, in particular that its notion of face is culture-specific. This paper attempts an elaboration of the conception of positive and negative face with a view to upholding the claim that these are universal phenomena. In order to accommodate the objections which have been raised to this claim, a revision of the etiological basis and nature of the positive-negative distinction, and also of the characteristics of positive and negative, is necessary. In addition, since much of the criticism rests on an acceptance of other aspects of Brown and Levinson's model, it is necessary to disentangle the central claim from these other aspects.