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THEODORE DE BOER 6. An Ethical Transcendental Philosophy '10 speak of the philosophy of Levinas as a transcendental philosophy seems paradoxical - indeed, a form of imperialism against a thinker who rejects any and every transcendental philosophy. Doesn't the transcendental method imply that philosophy is based upon the indubitable certainty of the ego cogito? Didn't Husserl characterize his transcendental philosophy as egology? But Levinas rejects such thinking as egoism and the predominance of the same. His starting point is the primacy of the other. In the great work on intersubjectivity written by the German philosopher Michael Theunissen, transcendental philosophy is the opposite of dialogical philosophy.! Levinas undoubtedly takes the side of the latter, although he does say in his later work that dialogue is not enough.2 On the other hand, there are a number of passages in the writings of Levinas in which we find him coming out in favor of a phenomenological and transcendental method. How is it possible to combine such seemingly antithetical manners of thinking - the transcendental-phenomenological method of Husserl and the dialogical method of Buber and Rosenzweig? In this article I will defend the thesis that the originality of Levinas' thinking lies in his integration of these two philosophical traditions to form an inner unity. His synthesis is not obtained, however, via a blurring of different standpoints. Levinas is too original a thinker to fall prey to such 'syncretism'. In his radicalism - that is, his thinking out of an origin or radix - Levinas can measure himself against his master Husserl. I will endeavor to demonstrate that Levinas integrates phenomenological ontology into dialogical thinking. Only the philosophy of the other, only "metaphysics", is able to provide a foundation for this ontology. Dialogue is the transcendental framework for 83 84 THEODORE DE BOER the intentional relation to the world - or, to formulate the same point in terms drawn from Buber, the I-Thou relationship is the transcendental condition for the I-It relationship. This new function of the I-Thou relationship also has consequences for dialogical thinking itself, which now takes on a specific philosophical task. Is this a degradation and weakening of the originally prophetic thought that Levinas himself opposes to the evidences of philosophy?3 Or could we say, to the contrary, that Levinas is the emancipator of dialogical philosophy, the one who has given philosophical significance to its inspiration? I. Ontology It is evident that the philosophy of Levinas has developed out of a confrontation with phenomenology. Therefore, a study of the place of phenomenology in his writings will at the same time deal with the genesis and structure of his thought. His dissertation of 1930 dealt with the concept of 'intuition' in Husserl's phenomenology . In the same period of time he was working on a translation of Husserl's Cartesian Meditations. His articles on Husserl and Heidegger were published in 1949 under the title En decouvrant thistmce avec Husserl et Heidegger. In the preface to this book Levinas says that these articles reflect his first encounter with phenomenology and the expectations raised by this discovery. Two years before this, in 1947, he had already published a small book entitled Existence and Existents; as the title indicates, this work was an initial proof that Levinas was an independent thinker. In the introduction to the book Levinas wrote that his thought was at the same time determined by the renewal of ontology undertaken by Heidegger, and he spoke of a deeply felt desire to distance himself from the climate of Heidegger's philosophy.4 This philosophy, he observed, is dominated by the distinction between existents and existence and is concentrated on the thinking of existence (Seinsdmken). Levinas was moving in the opposite direction - "from existence to the existent (de lhistence a thistant) and from the existent to the other."5 This path from existence to the existent is the path that leads from ontology to metaphysics , or from totality to infinity. But what does it mean that Levinas distances himself from phenomenological ontology? Is it a dismissal or denial of his past, or is it to be understood in the sense An Ethical Transcendental Philosophy 85 in which it might be said that to understand Husserl is to go beyond him? Dondeyne has correctly underscored the fact that Levinas entitled his main work "lotality and Infinity" - not "Totality or Infinity ."6 What does the little word and in this title mean? Ifwe are to find an answer to this question, we must...


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