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Hiddenness and Alterity

Philosophical and Literary Sightings of the Unseen

By James Richard Mensch

Publication Year: 2005

In spite of the injunction of philosophy to “know oneself,” we realize that we often act from motives that are obscure; we realize that we often do not fully understand how we feel or react. In short, we understand ourselves as not completely knowable. In attempting to know ourselves, we recognize that some aspects of ourselves—not unlike when we try to know others—are hidden from us. In Hiddenness and Alterity, Mensch seeks to define how the hidden shows itself. In pursuing this issue, Mensch also raises a parallel one regarding the nature and origin of our self-concealment. In developing the theme of the exceeding quality of selfhood, in which part of our self is truly “other,” Mensch presents a unified theory of alterity. He examines how our acknowledgment (and suppression) of the other shapes our thought in ethics, politics, epistemology and theology. Further, he demonstrates such “sightings of the unseen” through original readings of the major figures of the phenomenological movement: Husserl, Levinas, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, Derrida, Nietzsche, Lacan and Fackenheim. He draws further on works by Herman Melville and Joseph Conrad to examine the inherent alterity of our flesh and its implications for the ways in which we relate to the world around us.

Published by: Duquesne University Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii

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pp. ix-x

Some of the chapters appearing in this volume are reworked versions of previously published articles. Acknowledgment is made to the following publishing houses, periodicals and persons for their kind permission to republish all or part of my following articles: “Temporalization as the Trace of the Subject,” in Kant und die Berliner Aufklärung, Akten des IX...

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pp. 1-16

The injunction of the oracle at Delphi, “know yourself,” has long been a goal of philosophy. Understood in a practical sense, it has been taken as a condition for a moral life. When, for example, Socrates asserted that the unexamined life is not worth living, his claim was that self-knowledge is required for the practice of the virtues that define human...

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ONE: Temporalization as the Trace of the Subject

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pp. 17-30

Many readers will find it curious, if not paradoxical, to begin a work on the phenomenology of hiddenness and alterity with a chapter on Kant’s philosophy. The phenomenological examination of alterity has been a theme of recent French philosophy, but Kant’s critical philosophy, in both its methods and spirit, seems to be at its opposite...

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TWO: The Alterity of Time

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pp. 31-48

There is a certain paradoxical quality to the claim that when we take the self to be the origin of time, its manifestation requires the whole of time. What is meant by such a whole? If we mean time in its unending infinity, then the individual self does not correspond to it. Individual selves do not last forever; they are born and they die. How could...

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THREE: Logic and Alterity

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pp. 49-62

One of the permanent factors driving philosophy is the puzzle presented by our embodiment. Our consciousness is embodied. We are its embodiment; we are that curious amalgam that we try to describe in terms of mind and body. Philosophy has sought again and again to describe their relation. Yet each time it attempts this from one of these...

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FOUR: Imagination and Others

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pp. 63-72

The question of the imagination seems straightforward. We all seem to know what it involves. Yet when we try to define it, we find depths that are difficult to penetrate. For Descartes, the imagination was simply our faculty for producing a mental image. He distinguished it from the understanding by noting that while the notion...

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FIVE: Givenness and Alterity

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pp. 73-82

The phenomenon is that which shows itself; it is the manifest. As Heidegger noted, phenomenology is the study of this showing. It examines how things show themselves to be what they are (1985, 85). One of the most difficult problems faced by phenomenology is the mystery of our self-showing. How do we show ourselves to be...

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SIX: Selfhood and Politics

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pp. 83-101

The political implications of the ethics of restraint can, perhaps, best be drawn by some observations taken from the current political scene. Since the close of the cold war, a certain constant appears in the conflicts that have marked many multi-national conferences. Again and again, we see the smaller states opposing the efforts of the larger to determine the structures...

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SEVEN: Shame and Guilt

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pp. 103-117

What is the relation of shame to guilt? What are the characteristics that distinguish the two? When we regard them phenomenologically, that is, in the way that they directly manifest themselves, two features stand out. Guilt and shame imply different relations to the other person. Their relation to language is also distinct. Guilt...

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EIGHT: Benito Cereno: Freud and the Breakdown of the Collective Self

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pp. 119-144

Ever since the oracle of Delphi’s injunction to “know yourself,” the question of who or what we are has occupied philosophers. One motive for pursuing it has been the fact that our own behavior, both individual and collective, has often been so puzzling. How do we explain the individual conduct that apparently makes no sense? What is...

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NINE: Literature and Evil

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pp. 145-160

Our past century was exemplary in a number of ways. The advances it made in science and medicine were unparalleled. Also without precedent was the destructiveness of its wars. In part, this was due to an increasing technological sophistication. The time lag between a scientific advance and its technological application was, in...

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TEN: Rescue and the Face to Face

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pp. 161-174

Given the experiences of the last century, the very least we can ask from an ethics is that it guard against the moral collapse that accompanies genocide. This seems like a relatively straightforward demand. We all assume that our ethical sensitivities would have been outraged were we to have been, for example, contemporary...

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ELEVEN: Abraham and Isaac: A Question of Theodicy

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pp. 175-197

Although coined by Leibniz, the attempt it represents is far older. In the Jewish tradition, it stretches to the beginning — that is, to the stories of Genesis with its attempt to explain how evil could exist in a world created by God. God, after each creative act, sees that his creations are “good.” Women, however, bear their...

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TWELVE: What Should We Pray For?

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pp. 199-209

Prayer, both private and public, is one of the most common of human activities. All human history records it; its roots probably go back to before recorded history. Yet, when we attempt to submit its most common form, that of petition, to philosophical analysis, we run into difficulties. All too often we pray for things, such as victory...

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THIRTEEN: Metaphysics and Alterity

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pp. 211-225

To speak seriously about metaphysics in a book on current philosophy is to admit to being out of fashion. The task of “overcoming metaphysics,” announced by Nietzsche, and taken up in earnest by Heidegger and Derrida, has long been understood as a fait accompli.1 If metaphysics is thought about at all, it is regarded...


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pp. 227-256


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pp. 257-264


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pp. 265-270

E-ISBN-13: 9780820705675
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820703664
Print-ISBN-10: 0820703664

Page Count: 280
Publication Year: 2005

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Self (Philosophy).
  • Other (Philosophy).
  • Phenomenology.
  • Ethics.
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