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The Philosophical Sense of Transcendence

Levinas and Plato on Loving Beyond Being

By Sarah Allen

Publication Year: 2009

What is the philosophical sense of transcendence? What meaning can transcendence have in philosophy? What direction, organization, and order might it give to philosophy? And how does transcendence transform or inspire philosophical thinking?

Sarah Allen confronts these questions as she explores Emmanuel Levinas’s approach to transcendence, which is set within a phenomenological context. Levinas seeks an approach that does not subordinate transcendence to the self-referential activities of human consciousness, and which does not simply fall into ontotheological, metaphysical language about God. Allen's novel approach explores Levinas's use of the language of the beyond and otherwise than being to speak of this ethically and religiously invested transcendence. She traces the beyond being back to its precursors in Plato and Plotinus, noting in particular the relation between Platonic eros and Levinasian desire as affective inspiration of the movement of transcendence and way toward the Good beyond being. This close and nuanced reading of Levinas and Plato on topics of transcendence and affectivity, her consideration of other central influences on Levinas's conception of transcendence, and her depiction of Levinas's "return" to Platonism, all go beyond what has previously been published in the field of Levinas studies.

Looking for the philosophical sense of transcendence, Allen asserts, requires not only a questioning into transcendence, but a questioning of philosophy itself. Any reflection on human affectivity brings us up to the limits of philosophical thought and suggests that there are senses to transcendence that will always escape formulation in philosophical language.

“A significant contribution in the field of modern contemporary philosophy and more specifically to Levinasian studies.” — Jean Marc-Narbonne

Published by: Duquesne University Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-ix


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pp. xi-xii

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pp. xiii

This book was researched and written using the original French versions of Levinas’s works. When Levinas is quoted in the main body of the text, I have inserted the existing English translations, and I have provided bibliographical information for all existing English translations in the bibliography. ...

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pp. xiv

I would like to thank the Institute of Philosophy of the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven for inspiring the research that led to this book, particularly: Dr. Ignace Verhack for his support, dialogue, and suggestions; and Drs. Rudi Visker, William Desmond, Martin Moors, Herman De Dijn, Rudolf Bernet, and Carlos Steel, ...

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pp. 1-12

The question of the sense of transcendence is one that has puzzled philosophical thinking from its inception. And even before the question, one might look to the very movement of transcendence as inspiring philosophical thought itself. For transcendence is a movement, an exceeding of boundaries, a crossing beyond. ...


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pp. 13

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ONE Transcendence and Love in Plato

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pp. 15-52

Let us begin at the beginning with respect to the long history of philosophy and the question of transcendence. If transcendence has to do with going beyond oneself and crossing borders, in Plato we find the first explicit and lengthy discussion of the movements of the human soul in terms of transcendence and the ...

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TWO The Darker Side of Being and the Sensibility of Suffering

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pp. 53-76

Though Levinas is usually pegged as a thinker of the beyond or otherwise than being, one could just as easily, and perhaps with more accuracy, characterize him as a thinker of being. In the wake of Heidegger’s reminder of the question of being as the recurring philosophical question of import, Levinas poses the ...

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THREE The Lighter Side of Being and the Sensibility of Enjoyment

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pp. 77-109

Being is not only darkness and suffering for Levinas, but also light and enjoyment. While the subject’s relation with the il y a and with its own being in hypostasis is heavy and suffocating, the subject is given a measure of respite from this darkness and weight in certain kinds of worldly relations, where being is ...

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FOUR Totality, Death, and Time

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pp. 110-148

Through his elaboration of the lighter side of being, Levinas arrives at an independent and separated subject, protected from the depersonalizing threat of the il y a and feeling its own being as enjoyment and happiness. But the independence of this subject is illusory — we need more than a subject constituted through ...


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pp. 149

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FIVE Erotic Transcendence in Levinas’s Early Works

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pp. 151-175

Levinas is well-known for his conception of Desire, particularly in terms of its ethical interpretation as a relation to the other human being. Yet, Desire is neither the first, nor the only way Levinas attempts to approach transcendence in his thought. He begins with a more traditional approach, philosophically speaking, ...

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SIX Transcendence and Desire in Totality and Infinity

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pp. 176-218

As we move from Levinas’s early work to Totality and Infinity, we see a shifting of the structures and roles tied to the erotic relation over to Levinas’s enigmatic conception of a Desire different from both need and erotic love. This Desire is the paradigmatic sense of transcendence in Totality and Infinity: ...

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SEVEN “Beyond the Face”: Erotic Fecundity, Desire, and Transcendence

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pp. 219-262

The fourth section of Totality and Infinity, “Beyond the Face,” is perhaps the most ambiguous and difficult section of this work. It comes back to the erotic love and fecundity of Levinas’s early writings, but in the shadow of metaphysical, ethical, and religious Desire, which has in the meantime come to occupy ...

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EIGHT Otherwise Than Being: Love and Transcendence in Levinas’s Later Works

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pp. 263-304

By way of introduction to Levinas’s later works, it is worth recalling the problematic surrounding the relation between Desire as affectivity and Desire as thought evoked in chapter 6. What is at stake in the relation between the thought and affectivity characteristic of Desire is nothing less than the relation between ...

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CONCLUSION The Question of the Philosophical Sense of Transcendence

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pp. 305-320

This citation captures well Levinas’s own questioning with respect to transcendence, and particularly with respect to his formulation of transcendence as otherwise than being. He is looking here for the sense of transcendence, and he places it beyond being, but he does not necessarily identify it with philosophy: ...


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pp. 321-354


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pp. 355-365


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pp. 366-378

E-ISBN-13: 9780820705484
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820704227

Page Count: 392
Publication Year: 2009