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Alterity and Transcendence (Athlone Contemporary European Thinkers) Paperback – 1 May 1970


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  • Paperback: 180 pages
  • Publisher: Continuum International Publishing Group Ltd. (1 May 1970)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0485121522
  • ISBN-13: 978-0485121520
  • Product Dimensions: 21.6 x 13.8 x 1.8 cm
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 80,227 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Alterity and Transcendence displays Levinas's philosophical thinking very well. It is of particular interest to those who try philosophically to ground legal terms such as human rights and especially human dignity without reference to political consensus or foundational explanations. Review of Metaphysics --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Emmanuel Levinas (1906-1995), a pioneer of the phenomenological method, exerted profound influence on prominent postmodern thinkers including Derrida, Lyotard, Finkielkraut, Irigaray, and Blanchot. Among his seminal works that have been translated into English are Entre Nous (Columbia, 1998), Ethics and Infinity, Totality and Infinity, Time and the Other, and Existence and Existents.Michael B. Smith is professor of French and philosophy at Berry College in Georgia. He has translated several of Levinas's works, including Outside the Subject, In the Time of Nations, and Proper Names, and, with Barbara Harshav, Entre Nous (Columbia, 1998). --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Ten years ago, I wrote: 'The transcendence of things in relation to the lived intimacy of thought - in relation to thought as Erlebnis, in relation to the lived (which is not fully expressed by the idea of a "still confused" and non-objectifying consciousness) - the transcendence of the object, of an environment, like the ideality of a thematized notion, is opened, but is also traversed, by intentionality. Read the first page
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Micro-Reviews #5 Levinas' "Alterity and Transcendence" 8 July 2012
By J. Pearl - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Emmanuel Levinas' Alterity & Transcendence is a collection of short essays and dialogues. This mid-sized work is competently translated by Michael B. Smith, although certain passages read rather uncomfortably, seemingly the consequence of an overly-literal translation. These passages lightly affect the readability, but do not seem to detract from the meaning of the original French (particularly for those who are familiar with the idiosyncrasies of French syntax).

The work itself is broken into four larger sections, each of two-four essays. The first, "The Other Transcendence" is by far the most philosophically interesting. Comprising "Philosophy and Transcendence," "Totality and Totalization," and "Infinity," this section engages the most important themes of Levinas' corpus. Here, Levinas develops his conception of the "totality," drawing upon a variety of figures, most importantly Heidegger and his notion of "the world." The "totality" is simply the entirety of beings, of entities within the world, visible (physically and mentally) for the I. Against this visibility, Levinas posits an invisibility of non-intentional consciousness. This concept, directly related to Sartre's notion of non-positional consciousness and influencing Henry's later development of affectivity, posits a form of relation which is outside or "beyond" the realm of Being. For Levinas, the principal example of such consciousness is "the Other," the human subject positioned in front of the I. This other is presented to the I as a "face" (visage) which commands the I "do not kill." It is this ethical aspect of the "beyond Being" which leads Levinas to posit ethics as "first philosophy," dethroning ontology, which, because it concerns only visible beings, is secondary to the direct relationship with the other.

The second major section, "Philosophy of Dialogue and First Philosophy," continues to develop this conception of ethics. Drawing upon his holocaust experiences, Levinas fleshes out the difficulties involved with a philosophy directed towards the other. Pushing beyond Buber's I-thou relationship, Levinas argues that the simplicity of the ethical call explodes in the face of a third party, a second "other" who necessitates that one attempt to compare two incomparibles, that is, one must ask the simple question: which "other" do I put first. It is for this reason that Levinas identifies the eruption of a second "other" into the I-thou relationship as the foundation of justice and its needs.

It is also within this section that the explicitly religious aspects of Levinas' work begin to rise to the surface. Identifying God as the Wholly Other (Tout Autre), Levinas understands the alterity of other humans to be a glimpse or trace of God's self. In this way, he identifies the command of the other's face, "do not kill," to be the very "word of God." Certainly, this "word of God" does not bare the particularities of a concrete religious system, but Levinas argues that this fundamental religious experience of the other should be the foundation, not only of all ethical behavior, but furthermore, of all religious interpretation and practice.

In the third section, "peace and right," the work begins to flounder a bit and becomes significantly repetitive. Nonetheless, these essays do provide an insight into Levinas' political theories, including his (lost) hope in socialism, which he originally understood to be humanities greatest chance for true progress, but which, in Stalinism, became one of its greatest failures.

The final section, "conversations," is comprised of two dialogues (the first with Christian Chabanis and the second with Angelo Bianchi) in which Levinas answers various questions regarding the content and application of his philosophy. Although these dialogues are interesting, if for no reason other than their intimate/personal tone, they are nonetheless somewhat vapid in content.

Overall, this work (and its first section in particular) provides a great introduction to those who are new to Levinas and a helpful resource to those who are not. In light of its brevity (182 large print and large margin pages), I would recommend this work to anyone interested in phenomenology, theology, ontology, or ethics.

J. Leavitt Pearl
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
LEVINAS’ CONCEPT OF “GOD” ARTICULATED THROUGH TWO MODALITIES 23 May 2014
By barryb - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
LEVINAS’ CONCEPT OF “GOD” ARTICULATED THROUGH TWO MODALITIES:
This manuscript appears 30 years after Levinas’ masterpiece of “Totality and Infinity”, where he depicted his Phenomenology. Now he gives us the detailed articulation of what he meant in that essay by “transcendence”; understanding it within sociology. The following outline represents his position in this 121 page essay:

LEVINAS’ JUDAIC CONCEPT OF “GOD”; UNDERSTOOD WITHIN TWO MODALITIES:“TRANSCENDENCE” AND “ALTERITY”:
TRANSCENDENCE: “3” moments:

1. The “psyche” describes the “space-of-transcendence”
a. Found in the face of the fellow-self.
b. Ethical-awakening takes place and quest for “logos”
c. Logos = the space of the “social-ideal-vigor”
d. Transcendent space = this “social-ideal-vigor”

2. The “conversation-threshold” describes the “time-of-transcendence”
a. “Psyche” breaks from spatial thinking.
b. Self seeks “originary-I” of the “other” behind the articulated “ideal-vigor”
c. Concept of “being” is posited.
d. The “originary-I” is the companion of the “logos-I”.
e. “originary-I” is posited as “prophecy”, which is anterior to “logos”
f. It is expressed as “motivation”

3. The “cogito” describes the “panoramic-notion-of-transcendence”
a. Formed through the following equation: psyche’s articulated “ideal-vigor-logos” (Greek philosophy) – plus: the “prophetic-motivational-base” (Jewish spirituality) = the logos-proper; or “transcendence”.

ALTERITY: “3” moments:
1. “transcendental-cogito” is awakened.

2. Buber’s moments of “ethical-alterity” are taken-up by the transcendental-self.
a. “morphological-desire” is expressed toward exteriority.
b. Negation of any “i-it” relation in sociology
c. Categorical-imperative of “justice” toward the “other” in an “i-thou” relation is posited.

3. The “originary-I” discovered through dialogue is coupled with the “originary-I” discovered through “ethics”.
a. Speech: beginning with speech-act at the DT. Conversation-threshold.
b. Inscribing: of the self’s “psyche” and “cogito” with the trace of “transcendence”.
c. Suffering: through the “decay-of-human-relation” which is present today.
d. Articulation of FACE: in reciprocal-understanding between dialogue and ethics; transcendence and alterity; Greek philosophy and Jewish spirituality.

Postscript: this work, of course, is done by the exiled self of “Exodus”. Wandering in the desert and constantly disturbed by the memory of genocide by the Nazi regime during WWII. Levinas believes there is the possibility of reconciliation, even after this horror. Absolutely worth 5 stars!!
12 of 53 people found the following review helpful
A Systematic Search for Values 8 Jun. 2000
By Bruce P. Barten - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
When I bought this book, I was attempting to catch the crest of a wave in philosophy, expecting a lot of mental activity in the wake of the death of Levinas (1906-1995) to help put my frame of values within the scope of current thought. But I'm more of a modern fragmentist~thinking through expectations is a realm of impossibilities, and not just for me. I had previously struggled with his TOTALITY AND INFINITY, which pits the urge to control multiplicty by having a system that defines a totality against the limitless possibilities offered by multiplicity itself. A reader may find that effort like a good game of chess: being able to visualize a strategy for winning keeps the sense of involvement high, but any attempt to be more involved than Levinas would obviously be a strain. When ALTERITY & TRANSCENDENCE becomes available in paperback, it might be a better guide for those who would like to see what values Levinas was pursuing. I could confine myself to a single page (177) in an interview published in 1985 for my efforts to comprehend the complexity of his answer to the idea, "To religion would belong the task of consolation, not of demonstration." Levinas took the opportunity to demonstrate the existence of an even greater evil. "The seducer knows all the ploys of language and all its ambiguities. . . . The most dangerous of seducers is the one who carries you away with pious words to violence and contempt for the other man." Instead of trying to create a clear distinction between religion and philosophy, Levinas showed an awareness of the ways of this world, where any dialectic is capable of being a threat to human freedom when it declares war on that for which it expresses disapproval. This is theology when it involves "the voice and 'accent' of God in the Scriptures themselves." As a modern fragmentist, I have hopelessly confused what is actually written there, but that tendency is as strong as the urge to associate The Beach Boys with songs about surfing.
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