Modern Western Philosophy Post Modernism: The Philosophy of Levinas for Competitive Exams

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The Philosophy of Levinas: Modern Western Philosophy Post Modernism

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Introduction

  • Emmanuel Levinas was a 20th century French philosopher.

  • He was born in 1906 and made major contributions in the branches of philosophy such as Existentialism, Ontology, Phenomenology, etc.

  • He is best known for his work in the area of Ethics, Phenomenology, Ontology, Jewish Philosophy, Existentialism. etc.

  • He belongs to the school of Continental philosophy and Existential philosophy.

  • Some of his famous works are;

    • Otherwise than Being, or, Beyond Essence.

    • Totality and Infinity.

    • Time and the Other.

    • God, Death and Time.

    • Outside the Subject.

    • Existence and Existents.

Image of Emmanuel Levinas

Image of Emmanuel Levinas

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The Concept of “Other” in Phenomenology

  • The Other in phenomenology is understood as the opposite of the Self.

  • According to the influential phenomenologists like Hegel, Husserl, etc, the “Other” represents the other human being which is different or opposite from the Self or the Subject.

  • Therefore, the Other is something which is not the subject, rather, it is the object.

  • Hegel says, the concept of self requires the other to exist as a counter entity in-order to understand the definition of the self.

  • According to Husserl, the father of modern phenomenology, the concept of other is understood with the concept of intersubjectivity.

  • According to Husserl, inter-subjectivity is the psychological relation between people. He says, the Other is the alter-ego, which is only defined by the perception of the conscious Self.

  • Hence, in short, Western tradition has understood the concept of the Other as something which is absolutely dissimilar from the concept of the conscious Self.

The Concept of Other in Levinas’ Philosophy

  • Levinas criticises the notion of how the concept of “Other” has been understood in the Western Tradition.

  • His philosophy deals with giving a radical view on the concept of Other and the way the concept of Self and the Other has been totalised.

  • Levinas argues, the totalisation deals with the elimination of the Other in relation to the concept of the Self.

  • In other words, the entire Western tradition has only been focused on the concept of Self, leaving the Other become the reflection of the Self and something negative in nature.

  • Hence, the alternative Levinas provides to this is called the “Welcome Approach,” to the Other, that is moral consciousness (deals with Ethics).

The Philosophy of the Other

  • According to Levinas, the Other cannot be made into an object of the self.

  • His philosophy shows a sense of responsibility towards the concept of the Other.

  • He criticise Husserl, Hegel and other phenomenologists for according to him, their philosophy is nothing more than the philosophy “for and of the Self.”

  • In other words, he says everything is an object for the self in the Western phenomenology

  • Hence, Levinas quotes, “Western Philosophy coincides with the disclosure of the other where the other, in manifesting itself as a being, loses its alterity (or the state of being)…From its infancy, philosophy has been struck with a horror of the Other.”

Some of Levinas’ Important Quotes Are

  • “The very relationship with the other, is the relationship with the future.”

  • “If one could possess, grasp and know the other, it would not be the other.”

  • “For others, inspite of myself, from myself.”

  • “There is first the very uprightness of the face, its upright exposure, without defence. The skin of the face is that which stays most naked, most destitute. It is the most naked, though with a decent nudity… The face is meaning all by itself…it leads you beyond.”

  • Note: From these quotes by Levinas, we can gather that, according to him, the other is not the opposite of the self. Rather, the other is the other oneself.

Ethics as First Philosophy

  • Levinas says Ethics is the first philosophy, it is prior to all other discourses.

  • For example, according to Levinas what ethics is to philosophy was what epistemology for Descartes, metaphysics for Aristotle, ontology for Heidegger, etc.

  • Levinas says, Ethics is not grounded in rationality, it deals with our description of responsibility that we have towards the Other.

  • He says, the self is dependent on the other.

  • According to him, the Other can be known via the face to face situation, this serves as the premise of his ethics and philosophy.

  • He says the face is beyond intentionality and consciousness.

  • The face is the embodied other or the physical, living being and is not merely the physical image, it is also an aesthetic image.

  • It is an enigma and not a phenomenon. It is vulnerable and is exposed to pain, heat and cold, thirst, etc.

  • He says, the face of the Other reminds us that we are not the sole entities.

  • He says so because, according to him, the other is our first source of our sensation and awareness of the world.

  • Hence, there is something beyond our sense of self, which is the Other.

  • In other words, he says we can only develop a sense of ourselves because of our encounters with the others.

  • According to Levinas, identity and culture develop through the self’s interaction with the Others.

  • Therefore, if we think of the others as entirely separate then that gives them not only the right to exist but also makes us act ethically towards them because our own face is also other in the same way for others.

  • Hence, it is our responsibility to treat others ethically and with compassion. When we ignore this, it leads to abuse and violence in the world around us.

  • In short, Ethics is concerned with the relationship of the Self with the Other Self.

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