Levinas: Totality and Infinity Summary

March 16, 2013

Ethics as first philosophy

Emmanuel Levinas is one of the greatest thinkers of the twentieth, but the complexity of his thought, as well as Heidegger’s, prevents a real spread / democratization of his work. One of his most important works is Totality and Infinity: An essay on exteriority. In the latter, Levinas, according to a phenomenological method, describes how subjectivity arises from the idea of ​​infinity, and how infinite is a product of the relationship of self to another.

His project, ultimately, is to ask the primacy of the other so to ask entity unconditional and based on the epiphany of the face. Others and me is me responsible for him. The infinite is another who meets me. In other words, the infinite is the starting point of morality, its foundation. This infinity is irreducible to knowledge, any knowledge of the principles. Levinas rejects any moral intellectualism. However, Levinas admits that man is not naturally moral, it must be awaken to ethics: it is the desire of others.

Thus, Levinas makes ethics, respect for others, the first philosophy. It is therefore a reversal of the ontological approach to the subject.

But the ultimate goal of the project is that lévinassien a radical transcendence, of God.

Levinas : from the same to the other

Levinas argues that ontology enacts a relationship with another being that reduces to the same. Instead, Levinas adopts an approach that does not reduce the other to the same, but considers the separation between himself and the other as inherent in the relationship with Being.

According to Levinas, the externality is how the individual transcends finite into the infinite. The externality is a relationship in which the self is separate from the other. The externality is a relationship where the being of self and other can not be aggregated or fused to infinity, because they are completely separated.

Intersubjectivity is the product of interiority. The Interiority is a subjective report in which a being refers to itself. Subjectivity allows itself to be considered as separate from the other. The externality is a state of being in which the self can not be merged into a whole.

The home must be separated from each other in order to have the idea of ​​infinity. The idea of ​​the infinite is in itself a form of transcendence in relation to the Other. This is the idea of ​​the infinite in me that saves me solipsism and open myself to the externality.

The other is absolutely other than the Self. The Other is other than oneself. The Other is infinitely transcendent reality.

The idea of ​​infinity requires the separation of the Same and the Other. This separation is a drop in the same and the other from the whole.

Levinas distinguishes between the idea of ​​totality and the idea of ​​infinity. The idea of ​​trying to integrate all the different and the same in all, while the idea of ​​infinity maintains separation between the other and the same. According to Levinas, the idea is all theoretical, while the idea of ​​infinity is moral.

The importance of face

Face of the Other is how the Other reveals itself. The face of the Other is the exteriority of his being. Face to face is an ethical relationship, and calls the freedom of self responsibility. Levinas explains that the face of the Other talking to yourself. Language begins with the presence of the face with the expression. Language is a system of interaction in which meaning is derived from the face of the Other. The Other is the signifier, which manifests itself in language by the production of signs, which offer objective reality or thematize the world. But the Other itself can not be thematized. The theming is a form of objectification: the Other is irreducible gold, definitely subject, infinitely other.

Face, this absolutely other, is not a negation of the self. The presence of the Other does not contradict the freedom of self. I can kill the other, but his face reminds me of my responsibility.

Conclusion of the summary on Totality and Infinity:

Totality and Infinity is a profound and challenging work. Levinas expresses a interesting perspective on the problem of modern alienation in that it explains how the separation can be understood as a fundamental condition of being.