- Series: Philosophical Series (Book 24)
- Paperback: 314 pages
- Publisher: Duquesne (December 1, 1969)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0820702455
- ISBN-13: 978-0820702452
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9.1 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #277,291 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Totality and Infinity: An Essay on Exteriority (Philosophical Series)
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Text: English, French (translation) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
About the Author
EMMANUEL LEVINAS, a major voice in twentieth century philosophical thought, died in late 1995. After studying under Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger in the late 1920s, Levinas went on to develop a philosophical system that placed ethics at its center. His writings have influenced several generations of French philosophers, including Jacques Derrida, and have won him an admiring audience among theologians.
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
~ 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? The face-to-face is Levinas's attempt to grapple with this perennial problem.
~ Oh yeah, the Other is a man, because the feminine other is not Other enough for Levinas, and romantic love is bad. ~
The problem of the feminine in Levinas is a real issue. Yet only a reductive and amateurish reading would pose the problem in these blunt terms. "The Other is man" and not women, is false according to any close reading of Levinas's texts. It is true that Levinas implicitly treats gender with a patriarchal slant, yet it is also true that he complicates and problematizes the way gendered is valued. There is a running debate on this within feminist camps. The more thoughtful and rigorous feminists realize the complexity and nuanced structural problems within Levinas's thinking of the feminine. Even if we admit that there is an undeniable patriarchal aspect in Levinas's work, we must also admit that he subverts that same patriarchy from within his own work. Here we may possibly oppose Levinas to Levinas. (Check out Tine Chanter's essay in `Addressing Levinas'). Oh ya, `romantic love is bad'?? Go read `Phenomenology of Eros' more carefully.
~Essentially, what he does is fuse Husserl and Heidegger's theories, to an extent, and replaces the transcendental ego of Husserl with the face to face relation with the Other.~
This sounds like a bad regurgitation of certain of Levinas's critics. The more precise way to put it is this: Levinas plays Heidegger's anti-scientism against Husserl, and Husserl's anti-historicism and relativism against Heidegger. There is a certain sense where the other displaces Husserl's T-Ego, in terms of its structural function. Yet Levinas is not after absolute knowledge, and `replacing' the ego with alterity precisely disturbs and relativizes - in fact renders impossible - constitution.
~ Levinas is just intentionally writing obscurely, perhaps because he realizes how silly his whole enterprise is and how much modernism is contained within it (still trying to find the condition for experience itself, did someone say German Idealism?).~
This comment shows the extent of our reviewer's ignorance. 1st: Levinas's entire project is one the most rigorous and non-reductive challenges to the Idealist tradition from Fichte to Husserl. Levinas's project is precisely a critique of the modernist project to secure absolute foundations. He ever retained an allergy to G-Idealism and saw within its totalizing logic the seeds of Auschwitz. 2nd: The claim that Levinas intentionally wrote obscurely betrays intellectual laziness and a certain chauvinism. A simple survey of Levinas's contemporaries, French philosophy of the mid-20th century, shows that Levinas is writing within a specific intellectual culture and style. Continental philosophy in general tends to be more difficult for us Anglophones in that we are socialized into an instrumental and minimalist stylistic culture. One need only read Hegel, Kierkegaard, Husserl, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, or Derrida to the see the extent in which Levinas is operating within a certain tradition and style of philosophy.
Finally, the following suggestion by the above reviewer can help us understand Levinas's basic point:
~ you would be better served by spending 3 hours contemplating and reasoning to your own working definition of the following words: --- "totality" --- "infinity" --- "other"
Then spend 3 hours contemplating and reasoning to your own understanding of how the three are interrelated.~
As you sit `contemplating' your definitions, imagine you are right on the cusp of a new idea that will refute Levinas and bring you philosophic immortality. All of a sudden, a frantic bang on your door jars you. You open the door and there stands your neighbor with blood running down his face. He explains that while he was sitting watching water flow over rocks (while contemplating Aristotle); a tree branch fell on his head. You immediately begin to help your neighbor: bandages, ice, call the ambulance, and so forth. By the time the ordeal is over, you have forgotten the specifics of you idea and must start all over.
The supplicating demand of the other interrupts all self activity, rendering our clarity and certainty and sedentary contemplation secondary and relative. No matter how grand and all encompassing our ideas become, there always remains an exterior: an other who bangs on the door needing help; whom we feel obliged to help even if the don't agree with our ideas, even if they are stupid, confused, and so forth. This knock on the door is not another `meaning,' idea, world, or theory, not another term to be defined or explained. The knock on the door is the face of the other that needs and demands whether or not our theory or definition justifies it.
Totality and Infinity is, no doubt, one of the Great Books.
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