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Continental Philosophy - Lévinas And The "other"

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Emmanuel Lévinas (1906–1995), the Lithuanian-born, French-Jewish philosopher, introduced France to the work of Husserl and Heidegger, whom he later opposed. He was imprisoned in a German labor camp between 1940–44 and later became a professor at the Sorbonne. Like Buber, Marcel, Simone Weil (1909–1943), and Jaspers, he is usually classified as a philosopher of religion. Lévinas was deeply influenced by Franz Rosenzweig (1886–1929), the German-Jewish philosopher, and his book The Star of Redemption, which critiqued Hegel's philosophical totalitarianism in favor of a metaphysics of creation.

In his masterwork Totalité et Infini (1961; Totality and Infinity), Lévinas accused Western philosophy, from Parmenides to Husserl and Heidegger, of having reduced the "Other" (that is, the other person), to an "object" of consciousness and/or to a neutral, existential relationship. From the vantage point of his Jewish background, he asserted that the ontology of the "same," of being, and of identity leads to the idolatry of power and domination, as for example in Hegel's master-slave dialectic and in Heidegger's "fateful destiny of being." The "face" of the other, its absolute "alterity," cannot be objectified or totally comprehended. The "other" includes the victims of the Holocaust, vulnerable and defenseless, claiming: "Thou shalt not kill!" The face of the "other" reveals the priority of ethics over ontology. The infinity of the "other," which defies any objectification, leads to God, to the "Other" beyond the human "other." Human beings do not encounter God through "proofs" for God's existence but rather through their relationship to the human "other," who is a "trace of God."

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