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Essential Vulnerabilities

Plato and Levinas on Relations to the Other

Deborah Achtenberg

Publication Year: 2014

In Essential Vulnerabilities, Deborah Achtenberg contests Emmanuel Levinas’s idea that Plato is a philosopher of freedom for whom thought is a return to the self. Instead, Plato, like Levinas, is a philosopher of the other. Nonetheless, Achtenberg argues, Plato and Levinas are different. Though they share the view that human beings are essentially vulnerable and essentially in relation to others, they conceive human vulnerability and responsiveness differently. For Plato, when we see beautiful others, we are overwhelmed by the beauty of what is, by the vision of eternal form. For Levinas, we are disrupted by the newness, foreignness, or singularity of the other. The other, for him, is new or foreign, not eternal. The other is unknowable singularity. By showing these similarities and differences, Achtenberg resituates Plato in relation to Levinas and opens up two contrasting ways that self is essentially in relation to others.

Published by: Northwestern University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v-vi


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pp. vii-x


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pp. xi-xii

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pp. 1-20

Emmanuel Levinas sees Plato not as a philosopher of the other, but as a philosopher of freedom: “This primacy of the same was Socrates’ teaching,” Levinas says: “to receive nothing of the Other but what was in me, as though from all eternity I was in possession of what comes to me from the outside..

Part I. Totality and Infinity

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Chapter 1: Violence

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pp. 23-37

In one direction, relationships point to violence. For what does the presence of an other hold out for me? Will the other harm me, destroy me, subsume me, overwhelm me? Or will the other help me flourish, help me develop or grow, let me be, let me be me? Plato, in the...

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Chapter 2: Freedom

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pp. 38-68

As we have seen, when Levinas, in Totality and Infinity, asserts that Plato is not a philosopher of the other, he focuses his critique on the concept of freedom. Speaking of Socrates’s views, he says, “Th is primacy of the same was Socrates’s teaching: to receive nothing of the Other but what was in me...

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Chapter 3: Creation

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pp. 69-95

For Socrates, in the Symposium, eros is a type of desire, and desire is a type of need. For Levinas, in Totality and Infinity, desire is contrasted with need. Are their views of desire, then, completely different? No, I will argue in this chapter, they are not as different as they seem since Socrates invokes need...

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Chapter 4: Knowledge

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pp. 96-112

Crucial to Levinas’s thinking about relating to the other is the distinction he draws, in Totality and Infinity, between the interiority of learning understood as Socratic recollection and the transitivity of what he calls teaching or instruction: “The transitivity of teaching,” he says, “and not the interiority of reminiscence...

Part II. Otherwise Than Being

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Chapter 5: Time and the Self

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pp. 115-132

Perhaps, though, the contrast between Levinas and Plato is surpassed in Otherwise Than Being. Certainly, it is not thematic in the latter work as it is in the former. Moreover, there are a host of differences between the two works. Is the contrast I have been drawing eliminated in Levinas’s more mature...

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Chapter 6: Violence, Freedom, Creation, Knowledge

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pp. 133-156

What about the main concepts treated in our discussion of Totality and Infinity? Do they make an important appearance in Otherwise Than Being? How are they handled? Are they handled in such a way that the themes I have brought out in my discussion of the earlier book carry through into the later?...

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Chapter 7: Glory and Shine

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pp. 157-186

In this final chapter, we return to comparison of Levinas and Plato, beginning with Levinas in order to complete our discussion of the contributions Otherwise Than Being makes to this book’s topics, and concluding with a return to Plato. For Levinas and Plato, there is an extraordinary quality to the...

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pp. 187-188

What does the presence of an other hold out for us? Whether it is Phaedrus, anxious about his lovers, or Sartre, ashamed before a keyhole, the stakes of this question are high. For Phaedrus, the question is whether to open himself to others or shut himself off in fear. For Sartre, the issue is whether the...


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pp. 189-196


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pp. 197-202


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pp. 203-210

E-ISBN-13: 9780810167827
E-ISBN-10: 0810167824
Print-ISBN-13: 9780810129948
Print-ISBN-10: 0810129949

Page Count: 224
Illustrations: 224
Publication Year: 2014

Edition: 1
Series Title: Rereading Ancient Philosophy
Series Editor Byline: Rereading Ancient Philosophy


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Subject Headings

  • Plato.
  • Lévinas, Emmanuel.
  • Other (Philosophy).
  • Self (Philosophy).
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