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Totality and Infinity: An Essay on Exteriority (Philosophical Series)

4.1 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0820702452
ISBN-10: 0820702455
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Language Notes

Text: English, French (translation) --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Series: Philosophical Series (Book 24)
  • Paperback: 314 pages
  • Publisher: Duquesne Univ Pr (August 1969)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0820702455
  • ISBN-13: 978-0820702452
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 6.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #54,660 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback
A very difficult and interesting work. Levinas' prose is complex and often seemingly contradictory. Why is this so? Levinas struggles with a language that very often glosses over the radical alterity of the other. Traditionally, western philosophy has relegated all beings to Being, the stuff from which all things, or beings, spring. Levinas wants to suggest that in doing so, western philosophy has ignored the complex and often difficult relationships that exist between individuals. Specifically, Levinas addresses the ontology of Martin Heidegger which reduces the other's importance by giving priority to Being, or Totality. The other, however, points beyond Being and towards infinity. The idea of the infinite is drawn from Descartes' third meditation in which he describes this fundamental idea that we all have. Levinas carries on this line of thought by emphasizing the other that shatters the supposed totality of Being and consequently creates an necessarily ethical relationship. Wonderfully, Levinas' work acts as an other that continually challenges the reader as do the relationships in everyday life.
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By A Customer on January 14, 2000
Format: Paperback
This books demands the attention of us all, at every moment, and is a quiet masterpiece in recent continental thought. A work which Derrida has commented on, and built on so much in his earlier and later (affirmative) deconstrucion. This book is not simply a treatise on ethics, but one on metaphysics, logic, philosophy of religion, philosophy of mind, aesthetics, epistemology and indeed every thinkable area of ontological, onto-theological work that one can imagine. A treatise that makes us dramtically rethink everyone of these areas and so much more. Levinas will, in time, no doubt become regarded as one of the greats in the history of philosophy.
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Format: Paperback
Yeah, this is hard to read. Yes, it is worth it. Levinas stands tall in a tradition that embraces the flux and rejects the totalizing tendencies of modernity. Totality and Infinity was a powerful influence on Derrida, can be seen as a parrallel to Heidegger's Essay Concerning the Question of Technology, and certainly repesents a powerful attempt at post-metaphysical ethics.

Levinas points out the egology, the self and family centered closedness that does violence on many scales. In a time when there seems to be unconditional heralding of freedom, Levinas points out the violence of freedom and encourages responsibility. Regardless of how effective one finds his arguments, I think the attitude and way of being Levinas is describing is one that would make life much fuller and less driven by inertia and ignorence.

Infinitely important (pun), highly recommended.
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Format: Paperback
To previous reviewers:

~ Levinas is trying to uncover the source of the idea of infinity ~

No, infinity by definition is boundless and cannot be encompassed or reduced. Levinas is not asking the Cartesian question nor concerned with securing the `existence' of the external world. The concept of infinity is unique in that its content always exceeds or overflows its concept. Ethical relation operates in just this manner: the relation to the other is not negative (ala Idealism) but rather a relation to an excess. This excess is no Hinterwelt, but rather goodness.

~ Then he proceeds to "show" that the face to face relation with the Other is the source for our capacity to have theoretical and practical knowledge. ~

Indeed. Though the term `source' is very problematic. Levinas shows theoretical and practical `knowledge' - science and law/politics - are fundamentally social. In this way, the ethical relation opens and conditions this `knowledge,' while always exceeding it. What if science claimed to discover that women were `inferior' to men? We would no doubt question the `truth' of this discovery. Why? Because such a claim seems to exceed the bounds of what scientific activity can produce. This example shows how ethics exceeds theoretical knowledge. The same goes for the `practical.' Why do we think that segregation is wrong or unjust? Why is excluding the `other' from basic political participation, and the responsibility and rights it entails, a problem? Political theory and practice, which in its way is a kind of `scientific ethics,' can also lead to problematic situations. How are we able to judge or discern or resist claims that seek to justify unethical attitudes and practices?
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Format: Paperback
Totality and Infinity is Levinas's first magnum opus, one of two. It is truly an amazing and magnificient piece of work. I had read later Levinas first and began reading this one initially as a sort of self-imposed mandatory prerequisite to read his second magnum opus Otherwise Than Being. Being used to later Levinas, it was an adjustment to read this earlier text. The language of both eras is highly dense and complex (and original), but the earlier language is more pedagogic and the structure more methodic.
At times, I didn't think I would finish the book. I knew I loved Levinas, but in this book the phenomological analyses are so thorough and extensive, that I wondered if it was the same author at times or when I'd find the definitive Levinasian mark of ethics, of the face. However, I am very happy that I did finish this book. Virtually the first half of the book is about Separation - an ambivalence in which a being masters and enjoys but is also dependent on the resources of the world. Interiority does not commence as a cogito or reason, but as enjoyment (of the world). Every being, in their enjoyment of this life, is separated from a totality that would fully account for all of them. The vertigo of existence, of the "il y a" ("there is"), is subsided in the prolongation of labor and in the dwelling. However, the interior economy is still not in a "face to face."
Only separated beings can enter into a face to face and share their resources with an Other.
Finally, the last sections (beginning from section 3) of the book begin to look a lot like later Levinas, and he goes into extensive and radical analyses of the ultimate, irreducible relation of the face to face and its highly ethical situation. He ruminates on goodness, justice, language, plurality, and peace.
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