The Face and Ethics – Lecture 7

February 24, 2013

The face is at the heart of Levinas’s ethics, but what is the face? Is it something that I see or look at? But isn’t looking the very meaning of intentionality, thought and objectivity that Levinas argues precisely misses what is other about the other? To look at something is to grasp it, to place it under a concept, to possess it. How then can I look at the face of the other? Would it not be an object of an intention like any other. If the other’s face is not a physiognomy (for even things have faces), what then is it? Can one even speak of it as a ‘what’, a quiddity?

If there is another relation to the face then that of vision, then this would be to question the whole prejudice of western philosophy that takes vision to be the fundamental way in which we engage with the world and make sense of it. Without seeing something, we cannot understand it, and we know that philosophy is littered with examples of sight as the pre-eminent way of knowing. Levinas goes back to one of the most famous of these examples, which is Socrates discussion of vision in the Republic  through the metaphor of the sun (507b-509c). What is important about this metaphor is in fact there are three elements: the seer, what is seen, and most important of all the visible (which is represented by the sun itself, a ‘third kind of thing’ [γένος τρίτον] Plato calls it). Without the visible, without the sun, nothing would be seen by the seer, since everything would be in darkness. The visible, therefore, must precede the visible object and makes it possible that I can see it. It is this region of the visible that stands for ‘being’ in Plato’s explanation, and for Levinas it is what reduces the terms in the relation to equivalents. He sees the same pattern of argument repeat itself in contemporary philosophy in the work of Heidegger. What is truth in Heidegger but the same as the sun in Plato? It is manifestation, disclosure, or intelligibility that brings together in the same region the same and the other. The comprehension of an existent consists in precisely going beyond the existent, into the open. ‘To comprehend the particular being,’ Levinas writes, ‘is to apprehend it out an illuminated site it does not fill’ [TI 190].

To make the face an object of vision would precisely therefore reduce it to a being like any other. It would destroy what is different about it. If there were a relation to the face, then it would have to be a relation with something that interrupts or disturbs the region of the visible. Such as relation is only possible in language. Speech is not a different kind of relation of visibility. It does not belong to vision at all. As Levinas writes, ‘the ‘vision’ of the face is inseparable from this offering language is. To see the face is to speak of the world. Transcendence is not an optics, but the first ethical gesture’ [TI 174]. The alterity of the other is not a property or quality of something. I cannot define the other by listing the shape or colour of someone’s face. In fact, in this sense, the other has no face at all, or would have the face in the same way that things or animals have faces. The face in its ethical sense is not the object of the gaze, but that to which one responds to in speech. Such a speech breaks with the very conceptual world that has its source in vision, in which things and people are defined in advance by a system of signs and the intentions that fulfil them. If language were merely such a network of significance, then there would be no relation to the other. But speech is not just what is said, it is the fact of speaking itself, the very relation of speech over and above the words and meanings spoken.

Language accomplishes a relation between terms that breaks up the unity of a genus. The terms, the interlocutors, absolve themselves from the relation, or remain absolute within relationship. Language is perhaps to be defined as the very power to break the continuity of being or of history. [TI 195]

Such a break should not be understood negatively as though it were a limit in my intelligence or perception that prevented me from understanding or finding the right definition for the other. On the contrary, the ethical meaning of the other is an ‘original positivity’ that precedes any lack. The other is not the opposite of me, everything that I am not, but more than me, and this surplus defines the very possibility of meaning itself. Ethics precedes ontology. It is because I have this relation to the other, or better that that other calls into question my enjoyment of the world, that something like representation or objectivity is possible, and not the other way around.

There is a difference between the other as an interlocutor and the other as a theme of discourse who is spoken about. It is this difference that explains the transcendence of the other, his or her difference from me. Such a transcendence Levinas describes in terms of the infinite, but the infinite here (as in Descartes argument, though Levinas in not concerned with its validity but only its form) does not come after the finite but before it. The infinite is not a negation of the finite, but on the contrary, the finite emerges from the infinite. The infinite is first and not second. The infinite as concrete event of human experience, rather than just a formal idea as it is in Descartes, is instantiated in the face as speech. It is the other who summons me and not I them, and is the presence of the other in speech that breaks with intentionality, where every term is reduced to the same in the region of visibility.

The face as sensibility is not reducible to vision or touch. It is a sensibility that belongs to speech, as though it were the voice and not the hand that touched me and sees through me. It is this voice that utters the command ‘thou shalt not kill’. It does so not through the words of the command itself, but the tone of the voice that interrupts. It is the expressive face itself that acts as the ultimate sanction against killing. Murder does not aim at the face. To murder is already no longer to experience the other as other. Is already not to hear the voice that prohibits killing, but to only see the other as a thing, as just one more visible thing amongst many, and as obstruction to one’s will. The resistance to murder is not a property of the face, as though the bullet or knife would bounce of it, but an ethical injunction that one can refuse to hear. This refusal, however, is anterior to the ethical command and attests to it even in the moment that it does not listen.

Such a prohibition against murder should be thought positively rather than negatively. To be responsible is to have one’s freedom founded in the experience of the other. It is to be called to be a self in response to the ethical demand. The other does not limit my will by force, but transforms it into responsibility in its summons to me. The appeal of the other does not negate the I, but inspires it. It promotes its freedom and goodness rather than denying them. The very relation of language to thought itself is only first made possible through the language of responsibility. The shared world of truth and knowledge as its source in the ethical relation and not the other way around. In calling into question my world of enjoyment and separation, the other does not restrict my world even further but opens it out. My horizons are expanded but they are done so through the other and not against them, nor them against me. Thought, reason, and objectivity are therefore parasitic on sincerity. It is because I am sincere that I share a world with others, and through such a dispossession the world first of all is made common, rather than communality being the basis of my relation to the other, it has to be discovered and re-discovered there. The other side of reason is not irrationality or mysticism, which in the end is merely a fusion of the same and the other, but the superlative presence of the other in speech who is the very condition of reason itself.

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Why Philosophy?

February 24, 2013

Plato famously said that the ‘unexamined life is not worth living’ (Apology 38a). But what is an examined life in contrast? Normally, I suppose, when we live our lives we do not question our principles, values or beliefs. If we did so constantly, then we would not be able to live our lives at all. I imagine that this what most people think philosophers are. People who can’t live proper lives, who have their heads in the skies, who aren’t reasonable, serious people. This isn’t a new insult. It does right back to when there were first philosophers (because there haven’t always been such strange people). Plato tells the story of Thales, who was one of the first philosophers, who we know off, who was so distracted by the heavens that he fell into a hole. This is the passage in full:

Why take the case of Thales. While he was studying the stars and looking upwards, he fell into a pit, and a neat, witty, Thracian girl jeered at him, they say, because he was so eager to know the things in the sky that he could not see what was there before him at his very feet. The same jest applies to all who pass their lives in philosophy.
(Theatetus, 174a)

Well I don’t suppose such a thing really happened. It has the ring of a myth just because the metaphor is so telling. Isn’t studying philosophy just like falling into a hole, and doesn’t everyone laugh at philosophers because they don’t take life seriously enough. The joke, however, in the end is Thales’, because having spent so much time staring at the heavens, he was able to predict that the next olive harvest was going to be very good and thus he made a fortune. Perhaps it is not so useless being a philosopher at all.

I don’t think, though, that was the reason that Plato thought an examined life was better. I don’t think he was recommending philosophy as a way of making money (or getting a career as we might say nowadays). Though that might be a consequence of doing philosophy, that would be the reason that you chose to do philosophy. The reason that Plato recommended philosophy was that he thought that it would make you a better human being.

In this way he saw philosophy as a spiritual task that consumed the whole person and not just a skill that one could become better at. The word ‘spiritual’ has perhaps become an overused word in our culture and in that way might be redundant unless we give it a precise meaning. What I do not mean by spirituality is a pseudo-religious activity or practice, as when someone might say that they are spiritual but not religious. Still less do I mean the commercial side of spiritual activity, like faith healing, crystals and reincarnation. All these are a kind of watered down mysticism that is the opposite of what Plato means by an examined life.

At the end of another dialogue, The Symposium, Plato tells us a story about how philosophy was born from Poverty and Resource (203a). Someone who has everything and desires nothing cannot be a philosopher, but equally someone who has nothing and cannot desire anything will not be able either. The philosopher is someone who exists in between the two. She knows that there is truth but that she lacks it, and it is because she lacks it that she desires it. Wisdom, the love of wisdom, which is what philosophy means, is this continual search for the truth and Plato seems to suggest that this search is unending. The philosopher is always looking for the truth and is never certain that she has found it, whereas the non-philosophers are always those who know that they have found the truth and it everyone else that is wrong. The fundamentalist and the philosopher, then, would be two very different people.

Is all of this still too abstract? How would we apply Plato’s dictum to our own lives. Most of the time, I think, if we were to be honest we don’t think for ourselves. Rather we think like everyone else. We have the same opinions, the same likes and dislikes, and we act in the same way. It is when we question this common opinion that we begin to ask ourselves how could we be ourselves. Now this might seem to be the easiest thing of all to do of all. Since aren’t we all ‘selves’ aren’t we already born a ‘somebody’, an individual. Yet this self that everyone is isn’t the self that we are after, because we want to be uniquely ourselves. This isn’t something that we born to be. Rather it is something we have to accomplish throughout our whole lives, something it is very possible to fail at.

The courage to be oneself, the courage to just be, is very difficult indeed. To conform, to be like everyone else, is, in comparison, very easy and what we always tempted to do instead. Philosophy isn’t about learning about philosophy just for its own sake, though it can become like that in a university sometimes, but how one faces the question of one’s own existence and how one gives meaning to one’s own life. This means being able to look inside of yourself and reflect about what is important to you, what are you values and desires and from that be able to choose the best life for yourself (which might not be the same as what other people might think is the best life for you), and once you have chosen to have the strength and commitment to carry it through.

What might prevent you from doing so is always the opposite of philosophy, distraction and boredom. Most of the time we just fill our lives in with doing stuff, as though are time were endless and we could always put off making a decision. It’s a bit like how we think about our own deaths. We are always certain that our death is some way ahead (especially when we are young) so we don’t really have to concern ourselves with it. Of course that isn’t true, because in fact our deaths could happen at any time and we wouldn’t know at all. What would it mean to live with that realisation? It would mean that you would have to ask yourself if you were really to die in the next moment would you be wasting your time as you are doing now just drifting from one moment to the next. The American writer, Hubert Selby Jr., writes about a ‘spiritual experience’ that he had, which is close to what I am describing here. He says that one day at home, he suddenly had the realisation that he was going to die, and that if he did die, he would look back upon his whole life as a waste because he hadn’t done what he wanted to do. He hadn’t become the person he wished to be. In that very moment of wishing that he could live his life again and not waste it, he would die. This realisation terrified him. It was this terror that was his spiritual experience, though at the time, he says, he didn’t realise that, he was just terrified. It was at that very moment that he became a writer. Not that he had any skill, or any idea of what being a writer was, but he wanted to do something with his life (at the time he was on the dole and in between doing dead-end jobs) and writing seemed the best thing (of course it could have been something else, but it was doing something with his life and not regretting it that was the important thing). He has learnt to become a writer by writing but it was his ‘spiritual experience’ that made he do it and also made him commit to it, not just give up because it was difficult.[1]

I think what Plato means by philosophy, by an ‘examined life’ as opposed to an ‘unexamined one’ is what Hubert Selby Jr. means by a ‘spiritual experience’. I am not sure that you can do philosophy if you haven’t had one (though you might be very clever about philosophy). Notice that this experience hasn’t got anything to do with being intellectual or knowing a lot of stuff. It’s about facing oneself honestly and about a commitment to a life without knowing how it might end up.


[1] From an interview with Hubert Selby Jr. that you can find here http://www.cunepress.com/cunemagazine/news/articles/selby.htm. He also described pretty much the same experience in an interview with the American actress Ellen Burstyn https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y1Zcf1maJlE&feature=g-user-f&list=FLA11eaq9wA-dQezPhEv8IWQ.


Phenomenology – Lecture 3

February 21, 2013

Of all the precursors to Heidegger’s Being and Time, phenomenology is probably the most obvious. Unlike with Nietzsche and Kierkegaard, its source is not hidden. Indeed Being and Time is dedicated to Husserl.[1] Again due to constraints of time, we cannot hope to cover all of Husserl’s work (which is very extensive in itself), but only focus on that material useful for our reading of Being and Time: namely, the critique of psychologism and the natural attitude through the phenomenological reduction, and the intentional structure of consciousness that emerges from such a distancing from psychologism and the natural attitude. We shall end with Heidegger’s critique of the presuppositions of Husserl’s phenomenological method and thus how he saw his own fundamental ontology going further and deeper.

In the Prolegomena, the first part of Husserl’s Logical Investigations, Husserl offers a sustained argument against psychologism in logic, which he believed had come to dominate the philosophical scene in the early part of the 20th century (2012, pp.9–160). This is not merely a parochial issue for Husserl, for it is a matter of the status of philosophy itself. Psychology, or the domination of psychology, which is a natural science, marks an extreme danger to philosophy that could have the consequence of its own disappearance. This unease should not be misunderstood as an expression of hatred against science or that the sciences themselves do not tell us something true about reality (Husserl remains deeply committed to the scientific project of the 17th and 18th century, and this commitment in some sense marks the difference between him and Heidegger), but the belief that science ought to be limited to its own proper area of investigation. When science does exceed these limits it becomes a myth or an ideology. What do mean by science exceeding its limits. For example, Steve Hawking in his introduction to modern cosmology, A Brief History of Time, argues that the physico-mathematical theories of the universe that he and his other colleagues have uncovered are a representation of ‘God’s mind.’[2] We need to be clear that science can tell us nothing about God, and the statement that physical theories are a representation of God’s mind are not scientific but mythical.

What matters for Husserl, however, is not just what scientists say or do not say, but the relation between science and philosophy. He makes two fundamental claims: one, philosophy is not a science, and two, science is impossible without philosophy. There are perhaps many who would agree with the first statement, because they would think that philosophy is more akin to literature than anything scientific, or more pejoratively, that philosophy is just metaphysical claptrap, which we don’t need at all. But the second claim makes it clear that Husserl would not agree with this dismissal of philosophy. Rather, he wants to insist that science cannot ground itself scientifically. In other words the natural sciences require philosophy in order to be legitimate, even though philosophy itself is not science in their terms:

Man should admit that truths which have their roots in the concepts which constitute the objectively conceived Idea of Science cannot also belong to any particular science. They should see that such truths, being ideal, cannot have their home-ground in the sciences of matter of fact, and therefore not in psychology. (Husserl 2012, p.172)

But why should the sciences require philosophy in order to be properly grounded or legitimated? The answer is logic. All the sciences require the truths of logic in order to put forward properly constituted arguments. This is why we can see that there arises a conflict between philosophy and psychology. For psychologism is the belief that logic is based in human psychology. Psychology is just one more natural science (though Husserl will say that is not a well formed natural science), and if psychology could demonstrate the basis of logical truth, then the sciences no longer require an extra-scientific discourse in order to legitimate themselves. To save philosophy from this redundancy Husserl must show that logic cannot be validated legitimately in psychology and thus philosophy is still necessary to the natural sciences.

There are three, Husserl argues in introduction to the Prolegomena, primary explanations of logic: ‘psychological, formal and metaphysical’ and, as we have seen, the first, the psychological has gained the ascendancy (2012, p.3). Psychologism can be defined as follows: laws that regulate the mental must themselves have a mental basis. The regulative principles of knowledge must be grounded in the psychology of knowledge. Take, for example the law of non-contradiction that P cannot be P and not P at the same time. The psychologist would say that this certainty of this law was grounded in the feeling of certainty of the person whose thought it is (perhaps today we might speak of MRI scans). Now Husserl’s argument against this is not a factual one (that there could be, for example, a better factual account of our minds), but that these psychologists have made a fundamental mistake about semantics. This error does not invalidate their scientific accounts, but it does call into question their ability to determine the status of logical truths from facts about the human mind.

The source of Husserl’s theory of semantic is Bolzano. Like Kant, he argues that all knowledge is representation and representations can be divided into concepts and intuitions. There are two meanings to representation: on the one hand, mental states of the soul, which are the states of my mind when I perceive something, which is a subjective representation, and on the other side, there is the inter-subjective representation, which is not a representation in us, but a representation in itself; that is to say, an ‘objective representation.’ This difference can be made sense of in the following way: each grammatical unity (a word) is associated with a host of subjective representations, but with only one objective representation. There are many subjective representations of the word ‘nothing,’ for example, but only one meaning of the word ‘nothing.’ Whereas subjective representations are real, objective ones are not. The subjective ones are real because they exist in the psychological state of the mind, the objective ones are ideal because they do not require a subject and cannot be said to exist. There is also a distinction between objective representation and the object of representation. The meaning of ‘table’ should not be confused with actual tables.

We can see what Husserl’s critique of psychologism might be. It is the confusion between meaning and the psychological state. Or, in other words, they believe that meaning and the activity of the mind belong to one and the same region of being, reality or nature, which is to be understood through the same causal laws. But this is to fail to make the distinction between real and ideal being. Husserl would speak here of a difference between the content of thought, which is nothing real, and the activity of thought itself, which is something real. Take his example of the number 5 again in the Prolegomena. No one would think that the concept or the meaning of 5 is the result of their own counting or someone else’s. The number five is not the result of the activity of thinking (or what Husserl’s calls ‘presentation’) by this or that person rather it is a possible object (‘object’ here not meant as a real object, but as an ideal object) of any activity of thought or presentation. In the activity of thought, we can, Husserl’s argues, make an abstraction, from the actual event of thinking itself, which takes place in a certain time and certain place, to what is being thought, which is not dependent on certain time and place. This ideal meaning tells us nothing about reality, to use the example of the number 5 again, the actual activity of counting, or the thinking the number, or objects in the real world, which might be counted through the concept of the number 5 itself.

The critique of psychologism is negative. It attempts to show that we cannot give a scientific account of our understanding of the world because we need a non-natural account of meaning. We need a positive account, however, what it means to do philosophy if we reject the natural attitude. Husserl’s description of what it means to do philosophy he calls the reduction.

I see the table in front of me. Now it seems clear to me that this table exists. But what do I mean by the word ‘exists’? I mean possibly that it is something real. That is to say that it is not a dream, an illusion or a hallucination. But what do I mean by the word ‘real’? This word seems just as obscure as the word ‘exists’. Perhaps I mean by this, taking into account my reference to illusions and so forth, that is has a physical existence. And what is something physical? It is something that is made of matter, and if I have some passing knowledge of physics, I might add that this matter is made of atoms and energy that can be described by quantum mechanics.

What of the world that things are in? Is that too a thing? From a scientific point of view, we might think of the world as the totality of things, which would be nature ruled by causal laws. The difficulty comes when we speak of the scientist itself. What is she or he? In one sense they are just like the chair about which they speak. They too are things. We would want to say, however, that they are much more than that.  Unlike things, they think (they are scientists after all), and like the rest of us, they have hopes and desires, which chairs do not have. Thus we must make a distinction between what is psychical and what is physical, and to each we could say, there belongs a corresponding world: for the world of things, nature, and for people, the mind.

This vision of a world split into two, the physical and the psychical, is already an interpretation and one perhaps that is even the more distorting and powerful because we just take it as obvious. First of all we need to go back, Husserl would say, to our most fundamental and basic relation to things, and therefore to the world in which they belong, and that is perception before we make metaphysical or even scientific speculations. We ask ourselves ‘how does the thing appear to us?’

Let us go back to our table again. There are two sides to our experience of this table. One side is transcendent and the other is immanent. The natural attitude only ‘sees’ the transcendent side of the object. What is meant by transcendence here? It is the object conceived as something real that lies outside of consciousness conceived of as something mental. From the perspective of the natural attitude knowing something is to go outside of oneself towards the object and to bring it back to the mind. Here consciousness is conceived of as a bag that contains the representation of the objects passively. And yet there are great difficulties with this theory. How would one know that the picture one had of the object was the same as the object itself? Moreover it is clear that my perceptions can be disappointed. I think that I seeing a chair, but on closer inspection it is a stage prop. It is clear that these questions themselves are not scientific ones, for what matters here is not knowledge of this or that object by a subject, but knowledge in general, that is to say, the relation between the subject and object, rather than the subject and object in themselves. Moreover, even if I were never deceived, does not this image of knowledge beg the question? How can I make the reality of external things the basis of knowledge when this is the very thing that I am trying to prove? The phenomenological reduction, which Husserl says is the very beginning of the philosophical method, brackets any claim to the external transcendent reality of things:

We put out of action the general positing which belongs to the essence of the natural attitude; we parenthesise everything which that positing encompasses with respect to being: thus the whole natural world which is continually there for us on hand, and which will always remains there according to consciousness as an actuality, even if we choose to parenthesise it. (Husserl 1980, p.61)

What need to underline here, and make sure that it is completely understood, that this is not a theory about the non-existence of the world: that everything is a dream, and that nothing exists except consciousness. For these claims themselves would be metaphysical and thus outside the reduction. Rather, it is a matter, of methodology. This is clear in the above quotation. The very being of the external world is one of actuality, and it is not as if the phenomenologist will put his or her hand in the fire after the reduction, because he or she know believes that the world does not really exist. I ask myself if the knowledge of exterior things cannot be the basis of knowledge itself, is there anything left if I discount this knowledge from my own procedure? You would think that the quick answer to this question would be nothing. For if I can no longer used the facts and material obtained by the natural science, or even my everyday experiences, then they must be nothing left over.  For I still see my consciousness as an empty bag that need to be filled with the things outside of it, and once I have got rid of these things, then all I am left with is something useless and null.

Yet consciousness is certainly not a thing, and this is what Husserl wants us to see above all, and moreover if I take out the transcendent object, then I am not left with nothing, rather everything remains, but with a different status.  What I am left with after the reduction, what Husserl calls the ‘phenomenological residuum,’ is the immanent object. In The Idea of Phenomenology, Husserl refers to Descartes to make sense of this idea. Cartesian doubt leads us to the cogito as something self-evident, for even if I doubt everything I cannot myself doubt that I doubt. But the evidence, of the cogito extends over all conscious acts. If I remember something, I cannot doubt that I remembering it and if I desire something, I cannot doubt that I desiring it. The immanent object remains, even if the transcendent one does not:

I might reach such a degree of sceptical despair that I finally say: Nothing is certain, everything is doubtful. But it is at once evident that not everything is doubtful, for while I am judging that everything is doubtful, it is indubitable that I am so judging. […] And likewise with every cogitatio.  Howsoever I perceive, imagine, judge infer, […] it is absolutely clear that I am perceiving this or that, and as far as the judgement is concerned that I am judging of this or that, etc. (Husserl 1964, p.23)

Now the content of the immanent object must be exactly the same as the transcendent object, though the latter is a real object and the former an ideal one. For the real object, external to consciousness can be in reality be destroyed, whereas the ideal object cannot; it only exists immanently within the consciousness. It is Husserl’s argument that the immanent object is given absolutely. Thus there is no possibility that I can doubt it. If I am thinking of a chair then I am thinking of a chair, whether the chair exists or not, or whatever the chair is made of.

The reduction opens up a field of the phenomenological analysis of immanent objects. But we do need to be careful to understand how far we have got here. We still do not know what the relation, if there is any, between the immanent and transcendent object is, and how we are to grasp the meaning of the world after the reduction. Do we simply return to the distinction between the subject and object, as Descartes does after the proof of the existence of God, or is the relation between immanence and transcendence far more complex than this? An answer to this question will only be found by a closer analysis of the difference between transcendence and immanence, and this can only be attempted after a deeper look into the structure of consciousness that will only be obtained after a discussion of perhaps Husserl’s most important and central concept, intentionality.

How things present themselves, rather than how we might wish them to present themselves, has to do with the intentional structure of consciousness. Like Kant, Husserl would argue that consciousness is not just a passive recipient of information from the external world, but already determines shapes and constitutes the object we see. Consciousness is not just opposed to the object, but constitutes the relation between the self and the object. These two ‘subjects,’ however, cannot be thought as identical. The first subject is the actual empirical subject, whereas the second subject, which cannot be identified with any actual living person, is ideal and transcendental. The analysis of intentionality is the description of its essential structure.

The notion of intentionality has its roots in medieval investigations of signification, but the immediate source for Husserl was his philosophy teacher Brentano, who made intentionality a distinction between mental and physical phenomena. Mental phenomena, for Brentano, are to be divided into the act of presentation, such as hearing a sound or seeing a colour, but also expectation, hope, judgement, love, happiness and joy, and the content of the presentation of the things or matter which is aimed at in the act of presentation. This ‘presentation’ is not to be confused with any actual thing or state of affairs (Brentano 1973, pp.77–81).

Brentano’s account is still empirical (different ways that we are conscious of the world) however, whereas Husserl’s is transcendental (what does it mean to have a consciousness of the world at all?). To explain intentionality, let us return to the distinction between immanent and transcendent objects Transcendent objects, or real objects, are given to us, Husserl argues, only through a continuum of profiles, perspective or adumbrations (these are not only spatial, but temporal):

Of necessity a physical thing can be given only ‘one-sidely,’ and that signifies not just incompletely or imperfectly in some sense or another, but precisely what presentation by adumbrations prescribes. (Husserl 1980, p.94)

Yet it is equally clear, Husserl would say, if we simple reflect upon our perception of things, we do not just see aspects and profiles, rather there is another element. I always see one and the same thing. Take the example of the table described in the Ideas:

Let us start with an example. Constantly seeing this table and meanwhile walking around it, changing my position is space in whatever way, I have continually the consciousness of this one identical table as factually existing ‘in person’ and remaining quite unchanged. (Husserl 1980, p.94)

We are continuously conscious of this one and the same table as really existing yet our perceptions of it change. My perceptions of the object are perspectival, whilst I am conscious of the table in person as being there as one thing. We can, therefore, also make a fundamental distinction between appearing and appearance. There is one and the same appearance, Husserl would say, though the appearing of this appearance is always changing. The one and the same appearance is the immanent object, and the changing manner of the appearance is the transcendent object.

We confuse objectivity with the transcendent object, but it is this object that is continually changing and therefore could never be the ground for scientific knowledge. It is the immanent object that gives unity and sense to our experience of things in the world. It is this unity that is valid meaning of objectivity. This unity provided by the immanent object already organises, or synthesises Husserl would say, our experience of the world, prior to any theoretical or scientific judgements that I might make of it. It is because the world is already organised by the immanent intentional structure of consciousness that we see things as having such and such meanings and therefore can make judgements about them. My experience of the world is already organised by the structure of intentionality before I have any sensations.

The world is not something outside of us, in the sense of nature in the scientific or common-sense attitude; rather the world should be understood as the network of meanings, which is the horizon in which we encounter objects. The world is this region of sense in which we are orientated. This world for Husserl is identical to the immanent life of consciousness. It is constituted through it. The key to understanding this claim is to no longer to see the world on the analogy of a natural thing, but in terms of language. For the self-same and identical appearance that appears at the heart of appearing is sense or meaning. It is not a natural thing, and nor does it have any basis in nature, yet it is the ground and possibility of our experience and judgements about nature.

What then did Heidegger take from Husserl’s phenomenology and what did he reject? First of all, it goes without saying, that not one page of Being and Time can be understood without it. It is phenomenological through and through. Heidegger himself is very clear about this when he describe the phenomenological method on Being and Time in section 7 (which we will describe in greater detail when we get to it). What is more difficult is seeing where Heidegger wanted to distance himself from Husserl. Here lectures that Heidegger gave on Husserl’s method, called The History of the Concept of Time, can be very useful.

In the third part of these lectures, he gives what he calls an ‘immanent critique’ of Husserl (Heidegger 1985, pp.90–131). The problem with the earliest conception of phenomenology is how it conceived our relation to the world. For Husserl, at least, this relation was primarily epistemological and his ideal was the sciences, even if, as we have seen, these sciences could not ground themselves. We can talk about tables other things around us and ask how it is that we know them, but is this really the primary and most important way that we relate to the world? For Husserl it seems that it is, such that any subsequent relation to the world must be built from it. What Husserl takes for granted is that we are nothing but consciousness and this is how we relate the world. What evaporates in this relation is the very concrete lived being that is consciousness and who must be the basis of any conscious act. The aim of Being and Time is to show that the there is a more elemental relation to the world than this conscious self-reflective one whose dominance is historical rather than phenomenological. Heidegger’s method could be described as a double reduction. A reduction of Husserl’s reduction so as to discover the concrete life it takes for granted. The latter, Heidegger, describes as a ‘fundamental ontology’ whose method is still phenomenological even though it rejects the primacy of the theoretical attitude (1962, pp.33–4).

Works Cited

Brentano, F., 1973. Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint;, London: Routledge.

Hawking, S., 2009. A Brief History Of Time: From Big Bang To Black Holes, New York: Random House.

Heidegger, M., 1962. Being and Time, Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.

Heidegger, M., 1985. History of the Concept of Time : Prolegomena, Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Husserl, E., 1980. Ideas Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology and to a Phenomenological Philosophy, The Hague: M. Nijhoff.

Husserl, E., 2012. Logical Investigations D. Moran, ed., Routledge.

Husserl, E., 1964. The Idea of Phenomenology, The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff.

Rockmore, T., 1997. On Heidegger’s Nazism and Philosophy, University of California Press.


[1]Though shamefully Heidegger removed this dedication whilst he was rector of Freiburg and also banned Husserl from using the library. For a thorough account of Heidegger’s ‘turn to Nazism’, see the chapter ‘The Nazi Turning and the Rectoral Address’ in On Heidegger’s Nazism and Philosophy (Rockmore 1997, pp.39–72).

[2] ‘However, if we discover a complete theory, it should in time be understandable by everyone, not just by a few scientists. Then we shall all, philosophers, scientists and just ordinary people, be able to take part in the discussion of the question of why it is that we and the universe exist. If we find the answer to that, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason — for then we should know the mind of God’ (Hawking 2009, p.136).


Hospitality, Labour and Representation – Lecture 6

February 17, 2013

The home is already a relation to the other, though as we have seen this relation is ambiguous, since the other is not the other of language, but the presence of the feminine, which is the welcome of the home. The home is not just situated within the world that already gives it its place, or through which the home intensifies this sense of place, rootedness and particularity, but is already openness to the other through hospitality. The feminine does not announce, for Levinas, the fact that there might be a woman at home, which of course would be absurd, but that hospitality precedes rootedness, such that the former is the forgetting of the latter, and not the latter the former. It is not that we have to derive hospitality from our sense of place, but that our re-interpretation of the other as ‘them’, as the ‘enemy’ as in contradistinction from ‘us’, the ‘friend’, must always come after the fact and not first.

To be a self is to be at home in the world and to have a home is to be in the world. One is not in the world and then subsequently has a home. Not to have a home is not to have a world at all. This is a reversal of Heidegger’s position where what one has first is the world and the home is merely an instrument to occupy this world that is already one’s own. The home is merely an extension of one’s self, whereas for Levinas the home is what it is to be a self. It is the possibility of returning to oneself out of enjoyment. To live from the elements is also to be open to the insecurity of their appearance and disappearance. This is tension of enjoyment that is both active and passive. Active, in the sense, that I live from my own enjoyment. My enjoyment is the enjoyment of enjoying. But also passive, because in enjoying  the water against my skin, or the warmth of the sun, I suspend myself in their overflowing. As they come, they can also go. It is not that insecurity undoes my enjoyment, or comes to it from the outside. On the contrary, such a insecurity belongs to the enjoyment itself. It is what marks the generosity of nature. Yet nature is always on the edge of disaster. The elemental can always slide into the nothingness of the il y a, from which it swells up.

The dwelling, therefore, is a way of resisting the insecurity of the future. It is a pulling back into oneself, but it is also a way of storing up resources for a rainy day. This is why Levinas describes it as ‘recollection’. A recollection in terms of time, as memory, which gives the world back again as thought (which we shall return to with the description of representation), but also recollection as literally ‘re-collection’, a tacking back of the world into my possession and storing up of its power so I can use it another day. Things, Levinas writes, become furniture. They are something that I can take up and possession and move around to suit by own needs.

Taking possession of the world is the way in which Levinas interprets labour. It transforms the elemental world into the identifiable and is thereby the condition of representation. Like Marx, it not thought that determines life, for Levinas, but life thought, and it does so through the medium of work. If labour is the condition of knowledge, it is not knowledge itself. It is the seizure of the world. First of all the hand gropes in the darkness. It does not know the beginning of itself, or the beginning of the world. Both merge together. It seizes things to directly consume them. The hand that labours, on the contrary, seizes the world by manipulating matter directly and transforming it. It transforms the future of uncertainty of the elemental into the certainty of the future of things. What first gives form to the elemental is labour, and it is from this solidity that the permanence of substance is built on which representation rests. Without labour, philosophy, representation would not be possible. Substance, which philosophy takes as primary, is not the first given of experience, but is experience already moulded by the hand. Enjoyment is the quality of the element before it has been transformed into something permanent. The evanescent pleasure of things that evaporate in their consumption. But who is to know whether this will return? So labour is the maintenance of enjoyment. The attempt to preserve what is always vanishing in the moment for another day. But to preserve the thing is to dominate and possess it. Labour is therefore always a kind of violence against the thing. It is a violence, however, that is conditional on the home, even when it forgets this condition. If labour is essentially the storing up of things for another day, then there first of has to be a place in which to store. Such is the home. And as we have seen, the home itself is inseparable from the presence of the other, even if this other is only the feminine and not the other of language and the ethical relation.[1]

Representation presents the world as though it had no condition, as though it were born in thought itself. But this representation of the world is always a memory of world that has already been experience, and memory itself is only possible because of the recollection that the home makes possible. It allows me to separate myself from the elements such that I can forget that I too am dependent on the world. The home is a relation to the other, but one can also shut oneself away in the home, close one’s door and curtains against the world. If the window is the reminder that the home is always open to the world, then the curtain conceals the window from within as without. The home is the very egoism of the I, content and happy in itself and fundamentally closed against the stranger.

This inhospitality, however, is always a forgetting. For the very possibility of the home is an original hospitality that was forgotten and without which this shuttered world would not be possible. The only way that I can withdraw from things is because I have relation with something that does not belong to the elemental. This other relation is the relation to the feminine. I have to refuse both enjoyment and possession in order to make representation possible. But this refusal requires the presence of the other. I represent the world because of others and not despite them, but after the fact I forget this condition and think my representation comes to me despite them.

Representation, then is not just violence against the thing, if it does not forget its original social condition, but a gift given to the other. My world already has to be in question for me to represent it, but that means that I have to exist apart from it. It has to mean more than something I consume or possess. Such a possibility is only given through the experience of the other who calls into question my possession of the world. To represent the world I have to be dispossessed from it. I have to no longer see it as mine. It is this dispossession that is forgotten in a philosophy that thinks it can gain everything back again more fold than that which it had lost.

Being dispossessed of one’s world is not an original violence at the heart of knowledge but the concrete experience of language. The act of speaking is sharing of a world in common, but to share a world means that one has to have been dispossessed of it and such a dispossession is what I experience in responding to the presence of the other in speech. I see the world as the other sees it, rather than as my own. I see myself in the face of the other as what I am, but what I am only occurs in this experience itself, as though I had no identity before.

Generalisation, objectification, what Western philosophy sees as primary, is dependent on this offering of the world to the other. Thus, the relation to the other is what makes representation possible, since the world represented is a world shared and offered to the other. I speak of the world to someone, in response to someone. I do not speak of the world to myself until after this fact. This is why language is not just one action like any other, but the ‘offering’ of the world, and an ‘offering’ that would not make any sense if I did not offer it to someone, if it were not a response to their demand. ‘The ‘vision’ of the face,’ Levinas writes, ‘is inseparable from this offering language is. To see the face is to speak of the world. Transcendence is not an optics, but the first ethical gesture’ [TI 174]. The irony or paradox is that as soon as the ethical relation sets up the world of representation it is forgotten. The world becomes the abstract relation between things, and the other is only one more type of thing, even if a special and unique one, amongst other things. The self and the other are thought of as identical and the same, mediated through a third term. In Levinas’s thought it not enough to acknowledge the difference between ethics and ontology, but that ethics has its source in ontology. The first, if we might put it this way, is an ‘empirical’ event. The face of the other interrupts the ontological order. The second is a transcendental argument. The very ontological order had its condition in the ethical event that it has forgotten or suppressed.


[1] This is one of the problems of reading Levinas’s account of the separated self in Totality and Infinity. What is the status of the feminine other. This is not merely the question of whether the feminine is empirical or not, but whether she (is she is a ‘she’) has the same force as the ethical other (and is this ethical other a ‘he’?). In the account of the genesis of representation that requires the anteriority of the demand of the other, is this other the feminine other of hospitality, or the other of language? The condition of representation seems to be the feminine other, but the gift of representation (that I speak of the world to another), seems to be the other of language and it is the latter that appears to have priority over the former.


The Dwelling and the Feminine – Lecture 5

February 10, 2013

The self enjoys the world without guilt or acknowledgement of the suffering of others. It enjoys its enjoyment. Like Rabelais’ Messer Gaster, the I is a stomach without ears.[1] In enjoyment, I am at one with life. There is not gap between me and the living of my life. What philosophy confuses as the opposite of joy and thus the opposite of life is the disquietude that belongs to enjoyment itself, but this anxiety does not destroy the enjoyment of life. It is not needs that make us sad. On the contrary, it is because we have needs that we are happy. For what would life be without food and drink that I can consume and enjoy? But is such an enjoyment sufficient to itself? One can enjoy existence like a child, bathing in the elements, to use Levinas’s expression, but this would not be secure enough to possess the world. I might enjoy my food and drink today but how would I know that there would still be some tomorrow? It is true that this concern belongs to enjoyment and does not undermine it, but enjoyment in itself is not sufficient to ensure enjoyment continues.

What guarantees that I can enjoy the world is the security of a home. It is the home that is my fortress against the anonymity of the elemental that can destroy my enjoyment at any moment. It is the home, which is part of enjoyment and sustains it, that counteracts the necessary insecurity of enjoyment itself. The home is not the opposite of enjoyment but belongs to it. Nourishes nourishment itself. Levinas speaks of it as creating a delay within enjoyment such that the self can re-collect itself against the threat of what tomorrow might bring. Rather than directly consuming the world, I store up my enjoyment against a rainy day. The home, therefore, is the condition of what Levinas will call possession, labour and economics, which we shall need to discuss in greater detail later.

The self is a self because it is literally at home with itself. The stomach without ears has a house. This interior of the interiority of the self is the very meaning of what it means to be an I. To have a place in the world, to situate oneself in the world against the void surrounding you so as to enjoy enjoyment itself. To be content, to be self-satisfied, to be bourgeois and to endlessly scan the life style pages of newspapers and magazines, this is what it means to be alive to have a life. Why should I be concerned by what happens to others? What does it matter to be me in my nice little house, shut against the world so it can be my world and nothing but my world, my home, my street, my neighbourhood.

Levinas is not criticising this life. It is the very meaning of what it is to be a separated subject, and without it the I would dissolve in the anonymity of the elemental, or simply become one item amongst many in an impersonal system of thought. Yet it is this separated subject that is called into question by the presence of the other. It is not just the impersonal world of the elemental that laps against my front door but also the world of others, who I cannot shut out even if I keep my curtains resolutely closed. Yet this relation of the other to the self, as we have already seen, is not a relation of opposition or negativity. The other does not call into question my self-satisfied existence by simply not being me, as though they lived in a house on the other side of the street, otherwise the I and the other would be equivalent, since it would only be in lacking my qualities that the other would be what they were. The other is not ‘not-me’, but completely other than me, coming from elsewhere than my world but demanding a response from me (which of course I can refuse, but the refusal itself has its source in this original demand).

The exteriority of the other is not something that stands against me from the outside. Rather than an interiority opposed to an exteriority, my interiority, from the very beginning is already interrupted by an exteriority from within. We have already seen this strange logic in Levinas’s description of the idea of the Infinite. As we know, Levinas is not interested in Descartes’ proof of the existence of God, but the form his argument takes. Although the cogito comes first in the order of explanation, it is second in the order of argument. The idea of God is already internal to the cogito from the very beginning of the process when it has already begun to think itself. It realises that it cannot be the beginning of itself but is already dependent on the existence of God of which it is has an idea but cannot be the origin of that idea as a finite being.[2]

In the same way Levinas describes my first relation to the other. It is not opposed or outside of my world, as world beyond this world, but has always been at the heart of this world from the very beginning and makes it possible (we saw the same movement in Levinas’s discussion of representation: it is the demand to justify oneself to another that is the ultimate ground of truth and not self-certainty). Interiority is ruptured from within. This is the ambiguity of the subject itself. Exteriority is not produced from it, but nonetheless it is to be found at the heart of its interiority. As Levinas writes, ‘Interiority must be at the same time closed and open’ [TI 149]. This exteriority that is at the heart of the interiority of the self, Levinas calls hospitality. What makes the home a home is not first of all my possession which I try to guard against the uncertainty of the future, but its hospitality. Hospitality, therefore precedes habitation. Hospitality is what makes habitation possible.

Again Levinas has in mind here Heidegger’s description of the ‘work world’ in Being and Time. For Heidegger, the home is first of all a tool. It shelters me from the elements. But the home is not one item within my world. It is the very possibility of me having a world. To be at home in the world is literally to have a home. I am not already in the world and then find a home, but having a home is the condition for being in the world. Existence does not make my dwelling possible. It is not in order to exist that I have a house; rather my house is my existence. It is what it is concretely to be a self. Yet to have a home isn’t just a matter of life-style. To have a home is to be at home, and to be at home is already to be with someone. To have a home is not simply to have a nice sofa, kitchen table and TV, but to be welcomed. A home is a welcoming place, and as such is not just a collection of things, but a human presence.[3]

What is particularly strange about Levinas’s description of this human presence is that it is sexed. The presence that makes the home a home is the feminine sex.

The other whose presence is discretely an absence, with which is accomplished the primary hospitable welcome which describes the field of intimacy, is the Woman. The woman is the condition for recollection, the intimacy of the Home, and inhabitation [TI 155].

There are two ways that we could respond to this. We might immediately say that he is being sexist. Why should it be the woman who makes the home a home? Is not this just a reactionary, patriarchal and conservative view of the home. One thing that might hesitate to make this judgement is that Levinas is clear that the feminine, which is the welcoming of the home, does not point to the actual presence or non-presence of a woman. The welcoming of the home is describes a feminine and not  a particular individual, because of course to describe the other as a woman would already be to reduced or negate their alterity. We might, however, not be satisfied with this defence of Levinas, as many have not.[4] Or we might argue, that even though Levinas’s views are coloured, shaped and prejudiced because of his own position as a man, and as a Jewish man, that he nonetheless recognises that we are sexual beings. What is remarkable, for example, in Heidegger’s description of human existence, is that in reading it you would hardly know that we sexed beings at all, that human beings are not neutral beings but men and women, and they have different experiences of the world. Of course, we might suspicious of the neutral being. We might find, on closer inspection that Heidegger’s Dasein is not that neutral, and looks very much male. There is no doubt that is this virility (a virility that is at the heart of Western philosophy since the norm has always being male), is what Levinas himself is questioning by saying the feminine is the very possibility of subjectivity.

I cannot make my home in the world without the other, because my house is not a home without out this welcome. This means there is already an ‘extraterritoriality’, to us Levinas’s expression, at the heart of my territory. The self is already in relation to the self before it has become a self. The other is already at the heart of the self before the self even welcomes the other. The very possibility that I might welcome the other, that I might not just be a stomach with ears, is because I already in relation with the other at the heart of my interior of my interiority. Dwelling does not belong to the anonymity of existence, as if the human being were thrown into the world like a pebble on a beach. Rather it is made possible by hospitality which is the presence of the feminine.

Works Cited

Katz, C.E., 2003. Levinas, Judaism, and the Feminine: the Silent Footsteps of Rebecca, Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Perpich, D., 2008. The Ethics of Emmanuel Levinas, Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press.


[1] As referred to by Perpich (2008, pp.98–9).

[2] Levinas calls this peculiar logic the ‘posteriority of the anterior’. I discover what comes second is in fact first, so that the relation to the other already makes possible the separated self (TI 54).

[3] I am reminded of the ‘Ikea scene’ in the film Fight Club, where the description of furnishings is precisely the opposite of having a home. See, http://videosift.com/video/Fight-Club-Ikea-scene.

[4] Katz gives a brief description of this feminist criticism of Levinas description of women’s roles in her chapter on Totality and Infinity (2003, p.78).


The Enjoyment of Life – Lecture 4

February 3, 2013

We have seen that formally speaking, so as to break with the idea of totality, both terms in the relation, the self and the other, have to be absolved from the relation; that is to say, both terms, whilst being in the relation, are also separate from one another. They are in a relation, and paradoxically speaking, also not in a relation, otherwise the relation itself would determine the terms in the relation and make them equivalent as is the case with the idea of totality. But what does it mean to be a self that is not subject to a totality that exceeds it on all sides and already defines what it means to be that self? The answer to this question, for Levinas at least, is enjoyment. A singular life is life that is enjoyed. Now it is this life that is interrupted by the demand of the other in speech. This demand calls into a question the egoism of the self. In turn, as we have already seen, it is this demand, and not the relation of the self to itself, which is the condition for the very relation of knowledge that forgets the original demand that made it possible.

To distinguish the particular nature of enjoyment Levinas has to differentiate his analysis from other ways in which the self is understood. First of all he has to convince us that theory is not the original way in which the subject gains access to the world. For it is this relation that reduces the same and the other to equivalent terms. He does this by criticising the priority that is given to intentionality in traditional phenomenology. At the heart of intentionality is the idea that the self is always in some relation to the world, is always directed outside of itself, transcends itself. In this way, we might say that Levinas description of ethics in Totality and Infinity still remains within the orbit of phenomenology.[1] Nonetheless, how Husserl describes intentionality gives priority to the theoretical attitude. Intentionality means for Husserl that my relation to the world is always a ‘consciousness of…’. In other words, there is always an object of my acts no matter what my act is, whether it is an activity of thought, perception or feeling. This object for Husserl is always an idea, and this idea gives meaning to my world (‘giving meaning’ is the translation of the German word Sinngebung, which Levinas sometimes refers to). This would mean that even if I were not having a theoretical relation to an object, then it would still be determined by an idea. Thus even if I were to love someone, then this love, as a conscious act, would always have as its object the representation of that person.

Levinas’s description of enjoyment precisely asks whether this relation is the only way that I relate to my existence, and more whether there is a more immediate experience on which it is founded.[2] Must I always have an idea of what I relate to? This would mean that whatever relation the I had with what was other than itself it would always determine the meaning of that other in advance. This would mean that intentionality would never really have a relation to something  outside of itself, for anything that it did encounter it would already be in possession of its idea or meaning, otherwise it would have no relation to it whatsoever. What is outside, then, is not really ‘outside’ at all, but already in advance constituted by consciousness’s idea of it. This is not to say that representation is wrong, and we should dismiss it, but Levinas asks whether it has its origin in itself, and thus is constituted by another relation to the world that does not have representation as its basis. It is this other relation that Levinas calls enjoyment..

Before, however, we can get to this relation, we need to distinguish Levinas’s phenomenological description of enjoyment from Heidegger analysis of care in Being and Time, for it is clear that Levinas situates his analysis in opposition to this one. Heidegger also questioned the overtly theoretical bias of Husserl’s account of intentionality and whether it could give us an adequate understanding of our relation to the world. For Heidegger, the theoretical attitude is not the first relation to the world. Before the world is an object of knowledge it is part of our existence, and our existence cannot be understood as derived from its representation. Existence, for Heidegger, is first of all an activity, a practice. Before I have an idea of my life I must live it. But what does it mean to live a life for Heidegger? It means that I am involved in my world. It has a significance to me in terms of my possibilities. This means that I encounter things in the world as part of my projects. In this way things are not ideas first of all, but things I use, so to speak, within a general network of finalities. To use Heidegger’s example: I don’t first of all know a hammer but I use it and this use only makes sense in relation to the totality of my existence as whole. I use the hammer in order to hammer a nail, I hammer a nail in order to build a roof, I build a roof in order to construct a house, and I construct a house in order to shelter from the elements. This list of ‘in order to’s’, if we might speak that way, is what Heidegger means by the structure of care that is the basis of my existence.

Again just as with theoretical attitude, Levinas is not questioning that I do not have a practical relation to the world, but whether this is the only relation to the world and whether it is the fundamental one. Do I just shelter myself from the elements, the sun on my face, the rain on my skin? Do I not enjoy them, and do so first of all before I have built a house or even thought about one (for Levinas dwelling comes after enjoyment, but he even points that I don’t just use my home, but also enjoy it). One way that Levinas thinks about this priority of enjoyment is sensibility (the feel of the warmth of the rays on my face). I am a sensible being because I have a body, but this is what is lacking in both the theoretical attitude and Heidegger’s analysis of existence. They are both strangely disembodied affairs. We first of live from things before we theorise about them or even use them. I enjoy things for themselves and not for any purpose, practical or intellectual. This enjoyment is the very basis of the happiness of the I who is not concerned for the other and who is thus a separated being.

What does it mean to have a body? It means that my first relation to the elements is one of sensibility, and Levinas wants to underline the fact that these sensations, these feelings are not just the idea of sensations, the idea of feelings. I live first of all at the level of affectivity, the qualities of experiences and not at the level of thought, such that these feelings would only be mutilated thoughts. Sensibility is not an instance of understanding or thought that has somehow gone wrong, or even a feeling that is waiting for a thought to animate it. Rather, it is a moment of enjoyment that is not thought at all. It is through my body that I first occupy the world, but this means that I am, for my independence, dependent on my place, my situation. The world is not an object of thought or even concern first of all, but  my sustenance and support. ‘I am myself,’ Levinas writes’, ‘I am here, at home with myself, inhabitation, immanence in the world. My sensibility is here. In my position there is not the sentiment of localisation, but the localisation of my sensibility’ [TI 138].

Enjoyment and sensibility, this primary way that I relate to the world, to the elements, Levinas describes in terms of nourishment. This is how I transmute the world from being other to me to being part of the me. But nourishment is not simply about what nourishes me, the bread or the water, for example, when I am hungry or thirsty. It is the act of nourishing itself which nourishes me. Nourishment becomes its own object. This is what Levinas means when he says that enjoyment is transitive. It has its object in itself (this is also what it is distinguished from Heidegger’s analysis of existence, for my relation to tools always has an end outside of itself). I find in enjoyment in satisfaction, not just the cigarette that is smoked but in smoking itself. ‘Enjoyment.’ Levinas writes, ‘is precisely this way the act nourishes itself with its own activity’ [TI 111]. An activity might have a content or purpose, but I live from activity itself. The activity is what is enjoyable, it’s very sensation. This enjoyment from living from things is the very meaning of egoism. Life is not bare needs that demand satisfaction. Life is not a lack that has to be endured. It already has a meaning as the very living from living, and if there is suffering and happiness, then it is a falling away from enjoyment rather than the very first attitude towards existence.

Enjoyment is not a psychological state distinguished from other emotions. It is the very meaning of being a self. It is the pleasure I get existing. We do not live life for the sake of tranquillity, supressing needs as the ancients thought, because they already interpreted life as essentially tragic, something we suffer rather than enjoy. Life is not a search for what is absent. We thrive from what we need. We do not lack or suffer from it. I enjoy eating, I enjoy drinking, I enjoy the sun on my skin. We are not happy because we have no needs. We are happy because we have needs and we enjoy fulfilling them. Happiness is a surplus above privation. The very personality of the I, the very self of the I, is the accomplishment of this happiness. This is the concrete accomplishment of being a self.

The life that is life from something is happiness. Life is affectivity and sentiment; to live is to enjoy life. To despair of life makes sense only because originally life is happiness. Suffering is a failing of happiness; it is not correct to say that happiness is an absence of suffering. [TI 115]

We are now beginning to see where the individuality of the I exists. The I is not an individual because it is an object. Objects are always tokens and types and thus never purely singularities. The individuality of the self lies in the immanence of a life that is always a life and never life in general and life is only a life because it is lived. The individuality of my life therefore is all the countless sensations I enjoy; the water, the sun, the colours, before it is the thought of the water, the sun or the colours. It is not the I as a concept that is the support of the enjoyment, rather enjoyments supports the I. The I is outside of itself in the elements, as the foot that feels the warmth sand between its toes. This is my place beneath the sun, but it is the sun that grants me this place. Here we do not understand the individual as the human sciences do. For them the individual is always a concept, a species that belongs to a genus, and never an individual self that feels.

It is this self-sufficient I that is called into question by the presence of the other and it does so through language. There are, as we have already seen two ways in which we can understand language. Either as the said, or the saying. In the said of language, what matters is what is spoken and not the saying itself. The said is the idea, concept or representation. It is not this that demands that I break with the world, for this relation of objectivity is itself dependent on the social relation to the other. The revelation of the other, which is not something that I enjoy, is the straightforwardness of the human face in speech. Not what is said, but the speaking itself demands that I respond from my silent world of enjoyment to the other. This is a different transcendence than the transcendence of intentionality (or even the transcendence of existence that Heidegger describes) that breaks with the immanence of my enjoyment of the world. It asks me to justify my enjoyment, but in so doing it breaks the spell of enjoyment itself and my solitary self-sufficiency. It makes me understand that my place under the sun is already an usurpation, and has been so from the very beginning, longer even than my enjoyment of the world. Such a demand is the very possibility of pluralism and society.

Pluralism implies a radical alterity of the other, whom I do not simply conceive by relation to myself, but confront out of my egoism. The alterity of the Other is in him and is not relative to me; it reveals itself. But I have access to it proceeding from myself and not through a comparison of myself with the other. I have access to the alterity of the other from the society I maintain with him, and not by quitting this relation in order to reflect on its terms. [TI 121]

Works Cited

Drabinski, J.E., 2001. Sensibility and Singularity : the Problem of Phenomenology in Levinas, Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.


[1] This is certainly Drabinski’s analysis. See, ‘The Subject in Question: Relation and Sense in Totality and Infinity’ (2001, pp.83–128).

[2] This move is similar to Heidegger’s in Being and Time when he reverses the priority between the ‘present-to-hand’ and ‘ready-to-hand’. My first access to the world is not representation but using things in terms of my everyday projects. As we shall see below, this reversal does not go far enough for Levinas. The world of work described in Being and Time has it source in an enjoyment for its own sake.


The True World – Lecture 2

February 1, 2013

Just as was the case with Kierkegaard, Nietzsche pervades the pages of Being and Time, but if you were to try and prove this by the amount of times that Heidegger refers to his work, then you would equally fail.[1] Just as we said in our lecture on Kierkegaard, however, weighing up citations does not really prove anything at all. Indeed, you might argue their absence proves more than their presence. For if Heidegger had signalled the importance of Nietzsche in Being and Time, then he would have had to litter the text with footnotes. Yet perhaps this importance is more than just scholarly. If Nietzsche is present everywhere in the pages of Being and Time, it is not because this work is an interpretation of Nietzsche, or just follows on from the work of Nietzsche, as though Heidegger’s own philosophy were just a new version of one of Nietzsche’s famous thesis on the eternal return or the will to power. To understand the importance of Nietzsche to Being and Time, you have to interpret it from this vantage point and not impose it from the outside, as though you were just hunting for citations and reference. Such an activity, anyway, is strange way of doing philosophy. It transformation the creativity of thought into a hobby of collecting numbers.

Being and Time opens with the question of being. Not only do we not know the answer to this question but we do not even know what it means to ask it. If Heidegger is going to convince us that it is even worth doing so then he has to have a method. This method is twofold. First of all he has to show us why it is that we have forgotten it and secondly what it is that we have forgotten otherwise we would not know that we had forgotten it. The first method is historical and the second is phenomenological and it is in the first that we might discern the influence of Nietzsche.

To think is not to think in isolation. We might think that there is a simple agreement with what we say about the world and what the world is. Either we think this agreement as its source in the world, so that the aim of knowledge is to discover the truth that is in the world itself. Or we might think its origin is in the subject, such that it is we who have to agree with the world, but the world that has to agree with us. We can see in these two forms the oppositions that have characterised Western philosophy itself throughout its long history through various forms of idealism and materialism. What is common across this opposition, however, is the idea that truth is a representation. One says that the true image of reality is to be found in the world and we simply have to see it there, and the other, in the self, so we simply have to look at ourselves. What is lacking in this account of truth is any sense of history. It either asserts that the world is atemporal and eternal, or the self is atemporal and eternal. Error is not a property of either the universal world or the self, but the individual who has mistaken truth for its opposite. Science, then, is nothing but the progress to an ultimate truth that has been there from the very beginning and which, one supposes, if we ever reach it, will mean that science itself will come to an end. Each individual scientist has been seeking for the same truth from the very beginning, and if they made mistakes, then this was because they were ignorant or biased. Now from our vantage point, because we know that we our closer to the truth than they, we can see this even though they cannot. They thought they were speaking the truth but they were not.

What does it mean to think truth historically? It means that one understands that the representation of the world is not first but second. The source of our image of the world has its origin in a tradition that is itself not an image. Take for example Nietzsche’s argument in his essay ‘On Truth and Lie in an Extra-moral Sense’(Nietzsche 1990).[2] Truth is something that has to appear on this planet. It is an accomplishment, not a given. In other words, there have to forces that produce and create truth. It is only because we have forgotten that truth has a history that we think the agreement between the self and the world, whether from the side of the world or the self, is natural and universal to the human species. It is in this social existence that the first urge for truth arises. It is society that fixes the truth of terms. The liar is excluded because he misuses words and meanings. So it is not deception that bothers us but what harm comes to us from deception and we want truth because it is agreeable and preserves our existence. Truth is first of all normative. It’s basis is that we experience the world in the same way and this can only be brought about through social force. We have to be made to feel the world in the same way. Only then can we claim that truth is in us or outside of us as a representation.

Truth is imposed upon us by society. We use the same metaphors as everyone else. Lie like everyone else. We forget that we are lying so no-one knows that they are lying. Because we forget, we think the lies are the truth. This commitment to truth is moral, for one’s attachment to it means that you judge as the liar the one who does not speak conventionally. You also judge yourself. You think only in abstractions and universals, and you ignore every subtle impression or sensation. Thus everything is reduced to schemata and diagrams that turn the perceptual and visual world into a grid. This how we humanise the world so that it does not threaten and disturb us. You have to understand that this is first of all a moral order. We force the world to conform to our concepts and then only subsequently say that it is true.

Does this mean, then, that Nietzsche himself is telling us lies. Does he not fall for the paradox of claiming that everything is lie apart from the statement ‘everything is lie’? That would be so if the only account of truth that we could give is representational. If the only truth were the agreement of the world with the self, either from the side of the world or from the viewpoint of the self, then Nietzsche would be the relativist that people confuse him with, because they think that when he says that everything is an interpretation he means that every truth is just what you say it is. Yet this truth, as we have seen, is not first but second. It is the result of certain history that prioritises representational thought, but it itself cannot be representational. There must, therefore, be another kind of truth, a ‘higher’ then this kind.

First of all there must be a truth about the history of truth. We must be able to examine how this truth came about, and also that there could be other truths, other ways of conceiving the world than agreement. This method Nietzsche calls genealogy. So his Genealogy of Morals, for example, is not about the definition of morality, as one might find in Kant and Bentham, but this history of this morality, which has a common source, even though at the level of representation they appear as opposites. The history of morality is the study of how something like morality came about in the first place and how different moralities are expressed in different civilisations and through time. Yet the past is not just for the sake of the past, for Nietzsche. It is not about collecting facts like an entomologist butterflies, but how the past means something for us in the future. Why does it matter to us, what does it have to say to us, and how will it change us. Nietzsche interest in the Ancient Greeks, for instance in The Birth of Tragedy, was not merely a matter of historical curiosity about the past, but that they could say something to us about our future.

Why the ancient Greeks were so important is that they had not fallen under the thrall of representational truth, though there philosophy, to some extent, in the thought of Plato and Aristotle, set in train its eventual triumph. What the ancient Greeks knew, and what they could still teach us, is that the world is not first of all represented but created. Even the world as representation had to be created. Creation, then is the other meaning of truth, as well as history. For what we see when we look at history of truth is its creation. It is these creations that are the original source for the paradigms of truth that over time forget their own origins so that they confuse themselves for the truth.

Creativity requires freedom otherwise how could there be other possibilities than the reality that faces us? When we think about freedom, however, we think about in terms of freedom of choice. We think freedom is simply a matter of choosing between one thing and another, or between one life and another. We have already seen with Kierkegaard that this is not the only way of interpreting freedom. What freedom means for Nietzsche is self-determination and self-determination is nothing like choosing, and indeed from its perspective self-determination will look very much like un-freedom.

When we come to think of the difference ourselves and nature, we think of nature as being determined and ourselves as being free. We think of nature made up of atoms which are causally tied together by the chain of necessity. We however, are more than just atoms (though they make up our physical nature) because we have reason. Freedom is not a natural property of something. Freedom does not exist in this way. Rather freedom is an idea. It has no reality about from people asserting it. Yet this difference between freedom and necessity mirrors the very opposition between idealism and materialism that is the basis of representational truth, and which we have seen Nietzsche rejects. This is why some readers of Nietzsche can get confused and think he’s a determinist and cannot understand how at the same time he will speak of genius and creativity. If you think you are free because you have reason, then Nietzsche is a determinist, because he would claim that this idea is a fiction. But that the same time the causal universe of science is also only an idea. Reality goes deeper than both reason and matter. It is the lived body.

What Nietzsche means by the livid body is not the physiological body of science, since that body too is thought in terms of causes and effects, but existence. Existence here is not a category of thought, but a way of being. When we speak of a physical body, then we are thinking of body that is common to many, but existence is not. Existence is individual. The body that Nietzsche speaks of is my body. The body I live in and which expresses my being concretely and not abstractly. It is my body which first of all says who I am and not thought. Thought has its source in the unthought and the unthought is the body with feelings, instincts and drives. It is the body which is the vehicle of history (it is the body that both resists and is formed by power) and not thought that only catches up with history retrospectively.

I am where my body already is shaped by history and projected into the future. The real opposition is not between the self and the world, which is an opposition of thought and not the body, but between thought and the unthought. Thought want to say that it is it that battles against thought, but in fact thought has its origin in the unthought, and without it thought would be sterile and lack creativity. We do not first exist as individuals because we think, since the thinking self is the universal self that is common to everyone. I exist first of all as the lived self that is my body. Only retrospectively does this body think. Reason has its origin in the historical being of the concrete individual, and not the other way around as it likes to imagine.

The ontological freedom of self-determination is to become who you already are. To become what your body, in its historical being, has already fated you to be. The choice I have is affirmation. Can I affirm my individual existence or not, and not whether I can choose between one action or not. The authentic individual is not someone who makes choices, but who seizes their own existence as their own. Outwardly nothing has changed at all. I am still the person I have always been and would have been. Yet this time I accept fully the person that I am. To do so, for both Heidegger and Nietzsche, means to live in the truth. It cannot be understood, of course, in terms of representational truth, for that would mean an agreement between the self and the world, an acceptance of reality, and a passivity in relation to its image, whether that image was  internal or external. To live in the truth is to be revealed to oneself as one is out of one’s past and forward into the future.

Works Cited

Haase, U.M., 2008. Starting with Nietzsche, London; New York: Continuum.

Heidegger, M., 1981. Nietzsche: The Will to Power as Art, Taylor & Francis.

Nietzsche, F.W., 1990. Philosophy and Truth: Selections from Nietzsche’s Notebooks of the Early 1870’s, Humanity Books.


[1] There are only three references to Nietzsche, as David Farrell Krell remarks in his analysis of Heidegger’s later lectures on the same philosopher, in Being and Time (Heidegger 1981, p.247)

[2] Ulrich Haase provides an excellent guide to this text and to Nietzsche thought as a whole in his introduction, which is more than just an introduction since it is a philosophical interpretation, Starting with Nietzsche (2008, pp.22–23). Much that is written here is inspired by it.