Aspects of AlterityLevinas, Marcel, and the Contemporary Debate

Aspects of AlterityLevinas, Marcel, and the Contemporary Debate

Brian Treanor

Print publication date: 2011

ISBN: 9780823226849

Publisher: Fordham University Press


“Every other is truly other, but no other is wholly other”. This is the claim that this book defends. Taking up the question of otherness that so fascinates contemporary continental philosophy, this book asks what it means for something or someone to be other than the self. Emmanuel Levinas and those influenced by him point out that the philosophical tradition of the West has generally favored the self at the expense of the other. In response, postmodern thought insists on the absolute otherness of the other, epitomized by the deconstructive claim “every other is wholly other”. But absolute otherness generates problems and aporias of its own. This has led some thinkers to reevaluate the notion of relative otherness in light of the postmodern critique, arguing for a chiastic account that does justice to both the alterity and the similitude of the other. These latter two positions—absolute otherness and a rehabilitated account of relative otherness—are the main contenders in the contemporary debate. This book traces the transmission and development of these two conceptions of otherness by examining the philosophies of Emmanuel Levinas and Gabriel Marcel. Levinas's version of otherness can be seen in the work of Jacques Derrida and John D. Caputo, while Marcel's understanding of otherness influences the work of Paul Ricoeur and Richard Kearney. Ultimately, this book makes a case for a hermeneutic account of otherness. Otherness itself is not absolute, but is a chiasm of alterity and similitude.