Other than Being or Beyond EssenceJune 26, 2021
It has been argued that Levinas introduced an ethic of the face in Totality and Infinite. In order to verify this, we need to determine well how Levinas thinks of the “face”. Moreover, it may be asked whether there is in this work the kind of ethics we can find in classical philosophy.
There are also commentators who argue that Levinas’ aim is to rethink the subject as an ethical subject. But if this work aims to tell us how the ethical subject can be, why does it end with a chapter titled “Beyond the Face” and finally with a discussion of parentage similar to the one in Time and the Other? Why did Levinas feel the need to write a second masterpiece after this work, such as Other Than Being or Beyond the Essence? Why was the question of “possibility of transcendence” and the discussion of guardianship completely canceled this time and reconsidered in an embodied manner in “ethical relationship”? Other than Being, he argued that the ethical subject is “other than being” by going beyond entering the transcendence movement in terms of being both himself and other in the ethical relationship.
What are the similarities and differences between the Totality and the Infinite and the Other Than Being in terms of relationship with others and understanding of responsibility? The most important similarity between the two works is Levinas’ refusal to accept that freedom is the basis of ethics. According to Kant, the only proof of my freedom is that I can act only out of respect for the moral law. The essence of the moral law is freedom. According to Levinas, ethics cannot be a proof of the freedom of the self. Even when freedom transcends selfishness and is grounded in the universal, it may be dominating others. Every law is threatened by its own stalinism.
There are always tears that the officer does not see. This is one of the main differences between Kant’s approach to the subject of ethics and Levinas’ approach. In Totality and Infinite, the ethical relationship leads to the questioning of freedom and the need to justify it. However, in order to justify his freedom, the subject, who explains himself and tells his meaning, will be able to gather himself in the language and re-establish his dominance over the existing ones. This compels Levinas to radically rethink the ethical subject. In Other Than To Be, the ethical subject does not enter the ethical relationship freely, he has already become someone else’s “hostage”. It is not a subject making rational choices, it is obsessed with someone else. In other words, it is not in the hands of this subject not to take care of or think about someone else. Even though he does his best, he is accused and thrown back to himself again and again, even though he has no fault. The ethical subject is described as an oppressed, oppressed subject. In the ethical relationship, the issue is no longer just to meet someone else’s needs, to feed him, to clothe him, to replace him, to identify with him, to experience the distress of his situation enough to change his substance, and to become the object of violence. In the ethical relationship, the ethical subject is “one-for-the-other”.
There is no limit to the responsibility of this subject, as he fulfills his responsibilities, new ones, even heavier ones, come. As long as he fulfills his responsibilities, he cannot reach a clear conscience. “I did my best, let others share this responsibility.” He cannot say, he has no right to make any excuses to avoid further responsibility. This subject, who carries all the weight of the world on his shoulders alone, becomes unique in responsibility according to Levinas. His chosenness is nothing but the fact that no one can replace him in his eternal responsibility. Other than Being, she treats motherhood as a figure embodying this responsibility. What does Levinas see in motherhood? According to her, motherhood is to go beyond taking care of her own existence and freedom, to continue to be responsible for the person she is persecuted instead of running away. The mother here is like the lonely mother of a moody, capricious, perhaps sick child, struggling to take care of her under very difficult circumstances. Why does Levinas describe ethical subjectivity like this? The reason for this is that social peace finds its possibility in this subjectivity. In order for social peace to come, the oppressed must see himself as responsible for the oppressor even though the persecution continues and the violence actually continues. Levinas privileges the persecuted in ethical subjectivity. Only he knows what substitution is, everyone else will be content with hearsay ideas about substitution.
Other than Being, he thinks of ethical meaning as “substitution.” There is no show of courage or heroism in disinterestedness, there is a passivity, a sensitivity, an obsession that is more passive than any kind of passivity. The ethics that Levinas speaks of is not based on will or will, but on one’s closeness to the other as if under one’s own skin.
Prepared by: Sociologist Ömer YILDIRIM
Source: Omer YILDIRIM’s Personal Lecture Notes. Atatürk University Sociology Department 1st Year “Introduction to Philosophy” and 2nd, 3rd, 4th Grade “History of Philosophy” Lecture Notes (Ömer YILDIRIM); Open Education Philosophy Textbook