Real Self: Questioned by the Other. Levinasian criticism on Heidegger
Emmanuel Levinas criticizes the concept of human being found in Heideggerian philosophy. He accuses it as Egology, because Heidegger has left out an important problem, the problem of the Other. In its search for the pure being, Heideggerian philosophy brackets the Other and lands in a totalization or neutralization of beings. The highest existence of the Other is totalized and the radical Otherness of the Other is lost. So each and every ‘being’in the world tells me don’t kill me, and don’t reduce me into the Being, because the Other is infinite. For Levinas’,crucial focus and central concern is the priority of Otherness that demands our ethical response. It can be said to begin with a fairly obvious fact of our everyday life, in whatever I do and say, I am faced constantly by the Other. My relationship among Others is primarily ethical.
Ethics for Levinas does not mean a philosophical examination of the norms and standards of human behavior. For him, Ethics is Metaphysics of the human person, which describes subjectivity through its relationship with the Other. So the Other comes first; the task of the self is to respond to the Other’s initiative. Levinas’ Philosophy makes Ethics as first philosophy. He develops a philosophy not just of the dimensions of Otherness, but of the traces of infinity revealed in the face of the Other human person. In this article, I would like to depict theLevinasian concept of real self in comparison with Martin Heidegger and also to propose the limits of their philosophical speculations.
The analysis of the face is central to Levinas. The way in which the Other presents himself or herself through the face. True essence of the human is presented through the face. The face manifests infinity.The face of the Other rests me with its nakedness, with straightforwardness and defenseless eyes. It invites me to enter into relation with it, which is not based on power. The infinity which speaks from the face of the Other that does not paralyze my power, but as the result of the unprotectedness of the face. This ethical resistance opposes my secret egoistic tendency to take the power away from the Other. The infinite manifests itself in the defenseless and miserable person and it shows up with me as a stranger, as a widow, as an orphan and as a begger. The self and ‘Other’ is not a cognitive one, because the Other is not known, but stands beyond me. In the face-to-face, the Other is in His or her Otherness. The Otherness cannot be grasped from facts, such as Other’s history or background etc. The Other reveals himself/herself to me through the face and stands over me. It is here that the Other stands over me in exalted position. Face is not in front of me, but above me. Thus the Other is infinite and transcendent.
For Heidegger, transcendence is not an alienation from self and not to be for the Other. But transcendence aims only at the perfection and fulfillment of human being in his or her individual person. Heidegger is of the opinion that transcendence is characterized by an essential going beyond the factual situation towards his/ her ontological or existential possibilities. Transcendence is an acquisition of a truer being by effectuating a fuller actualization of human possibilities. It is an expedition that opens inevitably into nothingness, because death is the ultimate possibility for human being.
Levinas finds that there is a Cartesian heritage in Heideggerian Philosophy, which seeks cognitive certainty in the foundation of cogito. Cartesianheritage in simple sense means Cogito ergo sum. ( I think, therefore I exist). The thinking self is the source of epistemological knowledge. Levinas criticizes that Descartes and Heidegger reduced the World and the Other to the thinking subject. ‘I think’ becomes the hold and foundation of thought that was cleared to itself. Philosophy was the ‘Self’ of the philosopher. Self is the centre of the philosophical venture. In this sense, Cartesian and Heideggerian philosophy is having only self, which totalizes all the Other into being; and being, being impersonal, one can comprehend it and bring it into self. What is lost here is the Otherness of the Other person. Which is what make him or her Other. The Other becomes a theme or an object. We cut down the Other to mere be thought. According to Levinas, here relation with the Other is a reduction of the Other, reducing him or her what he or she is not. This is the destruction of transcendence.
Against self centered transcendence by Heidegger, Levinas says that theo-centric self-transcendence is given by God. He evinces that God only can open the infinite aperture that characterizes human being and to fulfill the immensely great project called human being. A reflective life must rediscover the theo-centric self- transcendence that is in us. Through a phenomenological study of the relation of the self to Other persons, Levinas argues for the primacy of the metaphysical character of the Other (infinite) over being. For Levinas phenomenology is the way to discover meaning from within our lived experience. This phenomenological method helps to study a face-to-face human relation such as desire and love. From this point of self alienation towards the Other, Levinas depicts that human’s ethical relation to another person comes before his relation to himself, or to the world of beings. Face-to-face with Other human, I am obliged to take responsibility for the Other before myself; for this reason my relationship with Other human being puts myself in the position of hostage. Thus Levinas puts forward an ethics of obligation and self-sacrifice, dependent on a relation to the Other that is beyond totalization, beyond comprehension and expression.
The incomprehensible nature of the Other is called Infinite by Levinas. The aim of phenomenology is to let something show itself as it is. The infinity is presented through the perception of the face which demands from me a meaningful response. Levinas says that language is the means by which the Other communicates him or herself to me. Instead of squeezing the Otherness of Other human being into the cruelty of the self, the self has to recognize that the Other still transcends my existence. Levinas says that this ethical relation puts the ‘I’ in question. The presence of the face of the Other is the essence of non-violence and peace. The peaceful welcoming of the Other is paradigmatic for Levinas. My welcoming of the Other is the ultimate fact. Meaning comes from Otherness and its language that conveys meaning. Language and philosophy are thus contingent upon an original moral experience. Language is the home of Self -Other relation, and moment of face-to-face encounter between Self and the Other is a dialogical moment, moment of address and response. Fundamental human activity is conversation, dialogue, response and address. Listener always stands outside the theme of discourse and renders me responsible for my using and my comprehension of Being. Genuine speech is a contact presupposing a relation outside the message it transmits. The language through which I come in contact with the Other is one of understanding.
Levinas is of the opinion that Heidegger’s philosophy has practiced a consistent suppression of the Other. The ‘Totality’ dominates.In short, Levinas says that Dasein is ultimately both solipsistic and imperialistic and that Being-with can be nothing other than a totalitarian reduction of Otherness to Being. For Levinas, the Other is always beyond my totalization. Because the Other exists outside my totality or world, the voice of the Other breaks into my totality as something alien to it, and at the same time, the voice as the expression of the Other’s exteriority, demands justice. It demands that the Other is affirmed as ‘other than I’. To see a face is already to hear: ‘Thou shall not kill”. That means to do social justice. The face is the manifestation of the person; the five senses are gathered together in the face. It is from my face, the words issue forth. The face is the most differentiated part of my body. The face is the primal manifestation of the I. To see someone is to see his or her face, and if death and burial are so painful to us, it is because Other takes the face forever from our sight. I cannot deduce a face, and it’s importance and its understanding will never be a conclusion of a syllogism.
Levinas says that human self is structurally designed for Otherness. The discovery of the transcendent nature of the Other brings relation of permanent question of the self, and the process demands self-denial (love). In giving and receiving, we get united with the Other. This becomes the point of orientation for journey into the Other. The manner of journey is going out of us to the Other. It is a path of self-stripping. The more we strip ourselves, the more we go to the Other. This is self-abnegation, self-abandonment.
Heidegger says ontology is an inquiry about Being in its totality. Levinas is not to be confused with Heidegger. On the contrary he is very much critical of Heidegger. Levinas says that Heideggerian Ontology reduces the particular to the general and produces a relationship of reductive comprehension between subjects. Otherness as both particular and unavailable to comprehension becomes impossible. Any relationship with the Other becomes unrecognizable as a relation of Otherness. Levinas makes a distinction between Ontology and Metaphysics. Unlike Heidegger, Levinas depicts that Ontology marks a philosophy of Being that always ends up reducing the Other to the self. Levinas says that Heidegger’s Ontology subordinates the relation with the Other to an impersonal relation of being. (This impersonal relation of being in Levinas’ view is that Otherness is simply included in the sphere of essence of beings). Levinas claims that Heidegger’s ontology is the philosophy of the being which cannot do justice to the Other and is incapable of seeing the Other with an ethical response. Ontology is built upon the logic of a movement from the same to the Other,which is always returning to the same. In Heidegger, there is priority of Being over beings. This is so in the relation to Others. Ethical relation is understood in an impersonal way. The Other is reduced to Being. And subordinating every relation with existents to the relation of Being, his Ontology affirms primacy of freedom over justice (ethics). For Heidegger, to know an existent means to comprehend the being of an existent. In this type of relation, there is always danger of impersonalization. Levinas says that Metaphysics means a mode of thinking about the nature of the Other as Other, not simply for the same(self). By Metaphysics, Levinas implies a movement of thought that exceeds totality and see the infinity in the face of the Other and makes a face to face encounter with a thought provoking dialogue. In other words, Metaphysical thought goes from the same to the Other, but not in order to return to the self. This metaphysical movement of the mind has always been a philosophical possibility, which considers Other as infinite.
Levinas criticizes that Heideggerian Philosophy subordinates entity to Being and in so doing makes violence inevitable consequence whenever entity refuses to submit. That is to say that, Dasein’s search for pure being makes a fight in order to capture its essence when the actual entity refuses its submission into Being. The Other is present as the world as the backdrop against which the entities are caught up. That means, the Otherness of the Other is mixed up with the essence of other entities. Levinas claims that in Heideggerian Philosophy, Dasein as human being, as a heroic subject, a self-sufficient subject, who accepts anxiety, receives death as a ontological existential possibility and in this way hopes to remain free from death. Levinas says that Heidegger’s philosophy is closed philosophy and argues that Heidegger had never put ‘being itself into question’. Levinas establishes his thought concretely and argues that real self is the self who is always questioned by the Other. Levinas puts forward a question before us that not why there is a being rather than nothing but how being justifies itself? On this sphere of closed philosophy of Heidegger, Levinas finds that the permanent urge for domination follows from the fact that freedom is never radically questioned, not even by death. For Heidegger, freedom is the ultimate foundation of all truth and every act of grounding of reality. Unlike Heidegger, Levinas says that justice is subordinated to freedom. Freedom is inconceivable apart from justice, since justice demands that the Other be allowed to express himself or herself as unique. Levinas says that Heidegger appropriates Otherness into identification. This results in the disappearance of the Other.
Heidegger says that Dasein ek-sists (stands out) towards its future. This existential temporality refers to the fact that Dasein is always and necessarily becoming itself and ultimately becoming its own death. If Dasein’s being is thoroughly temporal, then all of human awareness is conditioned by this temporality, including one’s understanding of Being. Being is disclosed only by finality within Dasein’s radically finite awareness. Heidegger argues that Dasein opens up the ground of significance by anticipating its own death. Disclosure is always finite. We understand entities in their Being, not fully and immediately, but only partially.We know things not in their eternal essence but in the meaning they have in a given situation. Unlike Heidegger’s Dasein, which seizes on the possibility of existence and makes itself authentic thereby, Levinas emphasizes that existence is there prior to our entry into the world. Existence is not synonymous with the relationship with a world; it is antecedent to the world. In short, Heidegger says that I know my existence only in and through the analysis of my Dasein (my existence in the world). Every day I must be questioned by myself. I get a meaningful authentic existence only when I take the best choice in the midst of various possibilities. Whereas Levinas says that I know myself only in and through the Other human being. I find the meaningful authentic existence only when I am standing in front of the Other with a smiling response.
When we analyze the reality of death, a comparison can be drawn between Heidegger and Levinas. In Being and Time, death is conceptualized by Heidegger not as a realizable empirical event, but as primordial, impending and inevitable possibility which we are forever thrown into the horizon of nothingness. And for Levinas, in Time and the Other, the approach of death becomes a relationship with something that is absolutely Other in which the individual is made fully aware of the respect for possibility and contingency, if the totalizing, homogenizing tendencies of thought are to be resisted. For Levinas, death is an experience of the self-sacrifice of the subject, which shadows the greater, but this self- sacrificing experience by the I in his or her encounter with the Other. In both cases death is recognized as the ultimate trait characterizing subjectivity, whether as being-toward death or as an absolute passivity. Thus by examining the nature of Time, Levinas wants to show that time is not a solitary experience of an individual, but a way of relating to Others. It is not a horizon of being, but a mode of going beyond being, opening up to the Otherness.
French Jewish- Lithuanian Philosopher Emmanuel Levinas became a celebrated thinker for his sincere philosophical attention to the Other, which puts into question the primacy of metaphysics for its propensity to culminate in an egological and totalizing Being as the self. With his conviction of Ethics as First Philosophy, Levinas provoked the need of the self to meet the face of the Other and be ushered towards the ethical order where human responsibility eventually transformed into social commitment and the encounter with the Other human being with a meaningful response. In his entire contrast with Martin Heidegger, Levinas vehemtally argues that the Self gets its authentic existence in and through the questioning face of the Other. In his master piece Totality and Infinity, we could see that Levinas is locating the basis of Ethics in the face to face relation where the Other puts me into question. I do not contradict my obligations to the Other. Levinas claims that the self gets its authenticity by giving a positive response to the Other with a smiling face.
- Heidegger, Martin. Being and Time (1927). Translated by John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1978).
- Levinas, Emmanuel. Totality and Infinity: An Essay on Exteriority. Trans. Alphonso Lingis, (Pittsburgh, PA: Duquesne University Press, 1969).
- ……………Time and the Other. Trans.Richard A. Cohen, (Pittsburgh, PA: Duquesne University Press, 1987).
- Brown, Stuart. eds, One Hundred Twentieth Philosophers (London: Routledge, 1998).
- Cazeaux, Clive. The Continental Aesthetics Reader (London: Routledge, 2000).
- Moran. Dermot, Introduction to Phenomenology (London: Routledge,2000).
- Therukattil, George. Becoming Human (Bangalore: JIP Publications, 1999).
- Wingenbach, E.d. “Liberating Responsibility: The Levinasian Ethic of Being and Time”, in the International Philosophical Quarterly. Vol. 36, ed, Joseph W. Koterski( new York: Fordham University Press, 1999).
 . In Heideggerian Philosophy, the identical and the non-identical are identified. Levinas is of the opinion that the Otherness of an Other cannot be simply reduced into merely being and it cannot be identified with the identical. The essence of a Table and the essence of another table is same. But the Otherness of a human person cannot be simply identified with the essence of a table. The former is absolutely non-identical. Emmanuel Levinas, Totality and Infinity: An Essay on Exteriority. Trans. Alphonso Lingis, (Pittsburgh, PA: Duquesne University Press, 1969), 44.
 . Heidegger’s main interest was ontology or the study of being. In his fundamental treatise, Being and Time, he attempted to access being (Sein) by means of phenomenological analysis of human existence (Dasein) in respect to its temporal and historical character. Throughout the whole philosophical discussion, Heidegger asked nothing but an important question: what is the meaning of Being. Heidegger says that Being in General and being in Particular can be understood only in and through the analysis of Dasein. Dasein is not simply a being, It is the Human being who questions about Being.E.d.Wingenbach, “Liberating Responsibility: The Levinasian Ethic of Being and Time”, in the International Philosophical Quarterly. Vol. 36, ed, Joseph W. Koterski (New York: Fordham University Press, 1999), 32.
 . The guiding insight of Totality and Infinity is that the Other human being in its separation calls me for introspection. Emmanuel Levinas, Totality and Infinity: An Essay on Exteriority, 37.
4. The face manifests infinity means: the Face of the human person (Other) is beyond my comprehension. It stands always above my thoughts and conclusions. According to Levinas, this incomprehensibility of the face is transcendent and it is infinite. George Therukattil, Becoming Human (Bangalore: JIP Publications, 1999), 54.
 . According to Levinas, Human intellect cannot grasp the demands which puts forward by the Face of the Other. It is Metaphysical. Dermot Moran, Introduction to Phenomenology (London: Routledge,2000),328.
 . The Otherness of the Other is in the sense of transcendence of existing apart, of Being beyond surpassing. In the face of the Other, I find my imperialistic self that does not hurt the Other, who questions, appeals and recalls me to my ethical responsibility. Facing is welcoming, speaking, questioning, informing, appealing and invoking. It always demands a response. Face is straightway ethical. In the face of another, I am not able to ignore him/her. Emmanuel Levinas, Time and the Other. Trans.Richard A. Cohen, (Pittsburgh, PA: Duquesne University Press, 1987), 45.
 . Clive Cazeaux, The Continental Aesthetics Reader (London: Routledge, 2000), 302.
 . Stuart Brown, eds, One Hundred Twentieth Philosophers (London: Routledge, 1998), 111.
 . Totality and Infinity: An Essay on Exteriority, 46.
 . The appearance of the face is central concern for Levinas. The verbal communication is not at all necessary. The face of the Other puts me in question. This non-verbal communication or the questioning glance of the Other is called by Levinas “commanding without commanding”. For example, (The Face of a begger before us, Thou he/she is not talking us for getting something, through their face, they are questioning us, whether I am justified or not). This is very much powerful rather than the verbal communication. Totality and Infinity: An Essay on Exteriority, 64.
 . In Totality and Infinity, Levinas writes, in Human conquest of the world, the true obstacle to the hunger for domination lies not in the resistance of matter, but in the moral resistance of the Other person. Philosophy in the Past has been a closed system, a self centered philosophy and is incapable of dealing with the problem of the Other. Like wise, Heidegger’s philosophy has reduced individuals (Others) to universal or absorbed the Other into the self. Heideggerian philosophy ignored the fact of the Other. The Other always resists and negates the self’s attempts to comprehend it. The real resistance of the totalitarianism of philosophy does not lie in the self but in the face of the Other, who in his Otherness will always remain beyond the purview of philosophy and objectification. Totality and Infinity: An Essay on Exteriority, 66.
 . Face cannot be discussed and justified. I either accept or reject it; I must show sympathy, friendship or love or else, turn your gaze from it. In every face that focuses to me, a person declares himself and before any word is pronounced or gesture made, it says ‘ Here I am ‘. Levinas reminds us that the Relation with the Otheris resident in the face of the Other.Totality and Infinity: An Essay on Exteriority, 48.
 . Totality and Infinity: An Essay on Exteriority, 51.
 . For Heidegger, the Primordial Freedom is the authentic truth of Dasein. Being and Time itself fundamentally concerned with the problem of freedom. The Primordial freedom is the meaning of the unifying concept of Being and Time and therefore more fundamental than either of the two concepts considered alone. Martin Heidegger,”On the Essence of Truth,” ed. William McNeil (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 146.
 . Levinas claims that in Heideggerian Philosophy, the human person in its singularity is sacrificed to Ontology of anonymous powers. Heidegger’s thought epitomizes Ontology as a philosophy of power. Levinas opposes this with Metaphysics of the good, wherein a nameless universal being does not have final sway. Heidegger evinces Ontology of the neuter; there is no basis for ethics.Totality and Infinity: An Essay on Exteriority, 66.
 . Levinas finds no ethical relationship in Heideggerian Philosophy. For Heidegger,As being in the world, human being must become intensely aware of his own individuality, of the specialness of his own person. In that sense, Human being is capable of questioning himself, existence precedes essence. Heidegger says only Human beings exist in the world. Human beings can define his existence by three traits. They are mood, understanding and speech. Three traits Heidegger called existentialia, and the philosophical tradition derived from his theories is known as existentialism. Only by questiong existence in term of the existentialia can human being become aware of his identity, the essence of his existence; human being is able to transcend the limits of the non-inquiring world and assert his destiny. Martin Heidegger, Being and Time (1927). Translated by John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1978), 124.
 . Heidegger’s question of the meaning of being is initially expressed on the Dasein who raises the question of being. For Heidegger, Dasein is nothing but being there (Human Being), and being-in-the-world. This is a phenomenological description, which exposes Dasein is fundamentally being in the World. The expression being in the world depicts that human constitution is intimately related to the world. To analyseDasein existentially means to seek the formal existential structures which are at the root of human transcendence and human conduct of self-comprehension and self-disposition. Being and Time, 143.
 . Martin Heidegger,”On the Essence of Truth,” 149.
 . As a closed philosophy, Levinas says that Heideggerian freedom letting be what is, and being itself, as model of grasping, a movement by which we withdraw from the Other as to receive and put it within the space of self. Totality and Infinity: An Essay on Exteriority, 56.
 . Heidegger states that Dasein tends to overlook the concealed dimension of disclosure and to focus instead on what gets revealed entities in their Being. Heidegger calls this overlooking as the forgetfulness of Being. We are thrown in to the world, but anyway we have lost our every day existence. Human beings must think about it. Heidegger argues that this forgetfulness depicts not only everyday fallen human existence but also the entire history of Being. Being and Time, 146.
 . For Levinas, meaningful existence is an attempt to tear away from the bruteness of being, that menas self-denial of a being and an entry into a fruitful face-to-face-encounter with the Other. For Levinas to be human is to be thrown away from the brutality of being. To be is to be for the Other.Time and the Other, 51.
 . Levinas takes issue with Heidegger’s account of authenticity as grasping one’s own being towards death. Again Levinas thinks, Heidegger has misdescribed the meaning of the phenomenon. Heidegger’s account of facing one’s death in a freely chosen act is related to ancient accounts of heroism, it is an act of supreme lucidity and supreme virility and indeed of mastery, whereas Levinas believes that the phenomenon of suffering and of facing death are more a giving up of one’s mastery and accepting that the possible is no longer possible for One. In suffering, the subject reaches the limit of the possible.Time and the Other, 56.
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