Levinas: Integrity home InfiniteJune 26, 2021
Conversations with Talmud commentator Monsieur Choucahi, who suddenly appeared one day after the war, led Levinas to establish a fresh relationship with the Jewish Talmud tradition, which he had not been interested in since his childhood synagogue education.
His writings in the 1950s show that Levinas thought of Western philosophy as the history of the encounter between the Ancient Greek tradition and the Judeo-Christian tradition. Western culture, then, has two heterogeneous sources. The concept of the finite universe in ancient Greece and the idea of the infinite through Revelation. In Western culture, there are various speculative intellectual processes that it has created in order to be in harmony with the ancient Greek philosophy. Not only the medieval philosophers, but also the rationalist branch of modern philosophy such as Descartes, Spinoza and Leibniz seek a way to establish the relationship between the infinite and the finite in both extended being and spirit. How can man, as a rational, self-sufficient, autonomous being, and man, as a God-created being and deriving his law from him, coexist in the same culture?
The great thinker of the eighteenth century, Kant, who displaced speculative metaphysics and made philosophy a critique from within reason, not from the outside, was a thinker of finitude. Infinity appears in two main places in his thought: Time and space, these a priori forms of vision imply the infinite, while we represent something in a space or time, we represent space, time itself as infinite. The infinite is also an idea of the mind. Its infinite experience does not play a constitutive role, it only contributes to the integrity of the mind. It is an idea of the mind that seeks the unconditioned condition by using the categories of the mind independently of experience and time. Since the finite is not conceived in the light of the infinite and does not refer to it, the infinite in Kant’s philosophy has a marginal status, not a central one. The infinite does not play a role either in the constitution of the phenomenal world by consciousness, nor in the sphere of freedom where my duties are determined by the categorical imperative. Hegel’s objection to Kant is this breaking of the finite infinite relation.
Franz Roseinzsweig’s Star of Atonement drew Levinas’s attention to how the relationship between the finite and the infinite in German Idealism was rethought, especially how Hegel handled this relationship. Hegel does not consider the infinite as separate from the finite, the dialectical movement of the finite comes out of it and returns to it, the movement of the infinite integrates all finite othernesses, differences. According to Hegel, the totality is infinite and the mind that realizes itself in being is nothing but the idea of freedom. In his 1957 article “Philosophy and the Idea of the Infinite”, Levinas opposes the Hegelian infinite to the idea of the infinite he found in Descartes. The idea that the Hegelian totalizing infinity can be resisted with the structure that the Cartesian idea of the infinite constitutes the basic strategy of Totality and Infinite. In this work, his aim is to pit the infinity against a totalizing infinity as a relation to another that resists totalization.
In Totality and the Infinite, Levinas comes to terms with both Heidegger and Hegel by bringing the structure of Descartes’ idea of the infinite to a new context. Heidegger can be considered a follower of Kant, not of Hegel, in terms of the finite-infinite relationship. He is also a thinker of finitude like Kant. In Being and Time, Dasein individuates, separates, liberates, and historicizes by relating to the possibility of death that is most unique to it. Finitude becomes the condition of relation to all that is. The idea of the infinite presents us with the structure of what Levinas calls “transcendence.” It is called “metaphysics” in Transcendence, Wholeness, and Infinite. Totality and Infinite Distinguish between ontology and metaphysics. In ontology, the relationship with beings is mediated by the understanding of being. Understanding Being precedes and makes possible the relationship with the Being. Understanding Being also enables us to gain power over beings that are understood, because it is our understanding of them that determines how they will appear to us. Ontology therefore reinforces the freedom of the same, eliminates or reduces the other to the same. Husserl “let’s go to the things themselves.” he said, but if the appearance is mediated by the understanding of being, nothing appears from itself as it is, the thing appears to us as we understand it. Whatever consciousness encounters, if it puts the terms of the encounter itself, it can only encounter itself.
What is metaphysics? Is there a difference between ontology and metaphysics? Ontology studies being as being. When considered historically, “metaphysics” is another name for ontology. In the 18th century, Kant, in his Critique of Pure Reason, described it as “metaphysics” that philosophy seeks the foundations of existence in the transcendent being, which cannot be experienced through sensory experience and can only be accessed by the mind. In this sense, “metaphysics” that speaks beyond sensory experience is illegitimate and Kant calls it “hand