Totality and Infinity: An Essay on Exteriority

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Springer Science & Business Media, 1979 - Philosophy - 307 pages
7 Reviews
Ever since the beginning of the modern phenomenological movement disciplined attention has been paid to various patterns of human experi­ ence as they are actually lived through in the concrete. This has brought forth many attempts to tind a general philosophical position which can do justice to these experiences without reduction or distQrtion. In France, the best known of these recent attempts have been made by Sartre in his Being and Nothingness and by Merleau-Ponty in his Phenomenol­ ogy of Perception and certain later fragments. Sartre has a keen sense for life as it is lived, and his work is marked by many penetrating descrip­ tions. But his dualistic ontology of the en-soi versus the pour-soi has seemed over-simple and inadequate to many critics, and has been seriously qualitied by the author himself in his latest Marxist work, The Critique of Dialetical Reason. Merleau-Ponty's major work is a lasting contri­ but ion to the phenomenology of the pre-objective world of perception. But asi de from a few brief hints and sketches, he was unable, before his unfortunate death in 1961, to work out carefully his ultimate philosophi­ cal point of view. This leaves us then with the German philosopher, Heidegger, as the only contemporary thinker who has formulated a total ontology which claims to do justice to the stable results of phenomenology and to the liv­ ing existential thought of our time.
 

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Why is this E-book double the price?
This book which I own in paperback form, is more than simply word play and nuance. It provides the clues overlooked by our dependence on external ontology provided
by the same. It gives us a bridge to approach the other and not to attempt its consumption. However, why the E-book cost double the price of the paperback is beyond me. This is a crime. It is by its economic justifications keeping this and other great works at arms length from the rest of the world. 5 stars for the book. None for the publishers ignorant decision. 

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Levinas' difficult prose withstanding, this work promises to be of enormous value to serious thinkers struggling with the present and difficult situation of Ethics. If one wants to receive the full benefit of this work, or if one is concerned to have every element of it shine through in the most transparent way, it would require a familiarity with not just Levinas' own Talmudic background and his love of the community of the text, but further, a working knowledge of the various systems of thinking of the Western Philosophical Tradition, from Plato to Descartes, Kant, Hegel, Feuerbach, Marx, Nietzsche, Büber, Husserl, and Heidegger (just to name a number of those that I now recall as represented). These are Levinas' primary conversational partners in discussing the phenomenal character of Ethics, in relation to Heidegger (if nothing else, Heidegger's "Being and Time" provides perhaps the most important recent impetus for Levinas' work). But supposing even that one lacks the technical philosophical background this book everywhere signals, one cannot but help be deeply affected by it, if only by simply attending with great care to the enigmatic language of Levinas, the "other" that points us to the critical question of Ethics. 

Contents

INTRODUCTION
11
PREFACE
21
A METAPHYSICS AND TRANSCENDENCE
33
B SEPARATION AND DISCOURSE
53
TRUTH AND JUSTICE
82
SEPARATION AND THE ABSOLUTE
102
A SEPARATION AS LIFE
109
B ENJOYMENT AND REPRESENTATION
122
A THE AMBIGUITY OF LOVE
254
B PHENOMENOLOGY OF EROS
256
FECUNDITY
267
SUBJECTIVITY IN EROS
270
E TRANSCENDENCE AND FECUNDITY
274
F FILIALITY AND FRATERNITY
278
G THE INFINITY OF TIME
281
CONCLUSIONS
287

THE DWELLING
152
E THE WORLD OF PHENOMENA
175
A SENSIBILITY AND THE FACE
187
B ETHICS AND THE FACE
194
The Other and the Others
212
The Asymmetry of the Interpersonal
215
Will and Reason
216
THE ETHICAL RELATION AND TIME
220
Commerce the Historical Relation and the Face
226
The Will and Death
232
Patience
236
The Truth of the Will
240
Beyond the Face
249
From the Like to the Same
289
Being Is Exteriority
290
The Finite and the Infinite
292
Creation
293
Exteriority and Language
294
Expression and Image
297
Against the Philosophy of the Neuter
298
Subjectivity
299
The Maintenance of Subjectivity The Reality of the Inner Life and the Reality of the State The Meaning of Subjectivity
300
Beyond Being
301
Freedom Invested
302
Being as Goodnessthe IPluralismPeace
304
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About the author (1979)

Emmanuel Levinas was born in Kovno, Lithuania, to an Orthodox Jewish family. Hebrew was the first language that he learned to read; he also acquired a love of the Russian classics, particularly works by Pushkin and Tolstoy which first stirred his philosophical interests. Levinas studied in Strasbourg, Freiburg, and Paris, developing a particular interest in the philosophers Henri Bergson, Edmund Husserl, and Martin Heidegger. He became a French citizen and eventually a prisoner during World War II, at which time his entire family was exterminated. After the war, Levinas taught at Poitiers, Nanterre, and eventually became professor of philosophy at the Sorbonne in 1973. He has also been deeply involved in the problems of Western Jews, including active membership in the Alliance Israelite Universelle, an organization established in 1860 to promote Jewish emancipation. The experience of the ravages of totalitarianism during World War II convinced Levinas that only a rediscovery of the specificity of Judaism could deliver the modern world from itself. Levinas's central concern is with "the other"---not the self or the cosmos, but the faces of other persons who make a claim on us and provide traces of the working of an infinite other. Totality and Infinity (1961) is a central but very difficult text. In it Levinas argues that Western philosophy has been captured by a notion of totality from which nothing is distant, exterior, or other and that, thus, when persons who are different confront such totalistic ways of living and thinking, they go to war. Moving beyond totality and war requires a notion of transcendence or infinity, which can bring peace. In fact, religion is, according to Levinas, "the bond that is established between the same and the other without constituting a totality." Levinas maintains that "the existence of God is not a question of an individual soul's uttering logical syllogisms. It cannot be proved. The existence of God . . . is sacred history itself, the sacredness of man's relation to man through which God may pass. God's existence is the story of his revelation in biblical history." Levinas has said that the most common objection to his thought is that it is utopian, for people are always asking, "Where did you ever see the ethical relation [with the other] practiced?" But Levinas is convinced that, although concern for the other is "always other than the "ways of the world,"' there are "many examples of it in the world." This is the reason that his writings on Judaism, such as Difficult Freedom (1963) and Nine Talmudic Essays (1968), are at least as important as his philosophical texts.

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