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STEVEN G. SMITH 4. Reason as Onefor Another: Moral and Theoretical Argument in the Philosophy ofLevinas Emmanuel Levinas has represented the divine claim of the moral life, "otherwise than being:' by the idea of the absolutely other. His uncompromising treatment of the otherness of God and neighbor seems, however, to negate the minimum conditions of sense and reason, posing a riddle for his interpreters: how can there be a rational argument concerning an infinite that avowedly exceeds any rational totality? How can there be a phenomenological description of something that is not evident, or an ontological analysis of something that is beyond being? If Levinas' analysis is neither phenomenological nor ontological, what is it? Why call it philosophy ?' Levinas has often described his thought as a phenomenology.2 This encourages the formulation of the problem of his method and rationality in phenomenological terms; that is, it may be suggested that there is a (unique) 'o~iect' to which his extraordinary 'descriptions ' happen to be 'adequate'.3 But is it useful or perspicuous to extend the notions of 'object' and 'description' so as to apply them to Levinas' enterprise? I believe not. Consequently, in what follows I will try to show the sui generis character of Levinas' nontheoretical yet genuinely philosophical argument, and - because I take 'rationality' to be the conception of last resort governing the demands for justification that may be directed to a philosophy - to elucidate the implications for philosophy of the 'rationality' that L~vinas pwposes, and that his achievement presupposes. 54 STEVEN C, SMITH Levinas' approach to reason is controlled by his understanding of intersubjectivity, which has received two major statements in the last two decades, Totality and Inji'nity (1961) and Otherwise than Being or Beyond Essence (1974),4 These two books are very different, but also complementary; they bring contrasting methods to bear on the common problem of morality, We will attend to these books in turn before weighing Levinas' cumulative argument about the nature and meaning of reason. I According to Levinas, the Western philosophical tradition is overwhelmingly devoted to the problem of theoretical truth, Its approach may be epistemological, that is, attentive to the necessary structure of knowing, or on~ological, that is, attentive to the necessary structure of being; but there is a root complicity between the two emphases. It is the destiny of knowledge to search out and adhere to being, and it is the destiny of being to disclose itself to be known. The bias towards the 'theoretical', in this inclusive sense, unites such diverse thinkers as Husserl and Heidegger. Totality and lrifinity's main thesis is that justice is prior to truth. 5 Justice' is a function of the plural relation between persons. The plurality of human society is ultimately significant in itself and can never be reduced to the unity that is the necessary goal of the search for truth - for example, in the form of the unity of ideally synthesized meaning-objects, in Husserl's phenomenology, or the unity of the one question about 'being' underlying and orienting the many questions about 'beings' in Heidegger's thought. Moreover, the adaequatio rei et intellectus brings about a unity between the knower and being, a mutual possession; we 'have' and are had by what we know. In veridical perceptions, for instance, we can "put our fingers on" what we perceive, can traverse these perceptions towards others, and form them into a systematic picture, and so on. The truths of logic refer to possibilities of thought that we possess, in the sense of being able to check and repeat inferences. But the basic and commanding significance of human sociality is that people do not 'have' each other in this sense. Above and beyond the many ways in which the other person is perceivable and thinkable by the self, there is a way in which the other is not disclosed at all, not evident, and beyond the Reason as One for Another 55 reach of the conclusions that can be drawn from what is evident. Levinas calls the social relation a "nonadequation."6 The other person has a different role than to be a known truth. The other is the one in face of whom truths are offered and criticized in discourse; he is the judge in the proceedings, never the accused. Nothing that I know or speak about could face me in the way that the one to whom I speak faces me. Because there is an uncomprehended other, neither...


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