Monday, December 01, 2008

Levinas: The Absolute Other

.:The Compelling Ground:.

In contemporary times, we find ourselves riddled with a crisis of the conscience.

You see, as we attempt to secularize ourselves, we find it more and more difficult to establish what is truly ethical, what is truly moral. We may refer to the laws, but we know that the law is merely punitive and a lot of legal actions are not necessarily ethical actions. We may refer to what our church teaches us, but we know all too well that religious differences would prevent us from saying that what our church teaches is the right way to acting as ethically upright human persons.

What we need now is an ethical foundation that is universalizable, and at the same time, compelling. Human nature may seem to be the answer, but if we look at man's inhumanity to man, is not the primordial state of human nature one of impulse and caprice? Thus, we need an ethical foundation that is metaphysical, but secular.

Ironically, this is where Levinas comes into play, despite being a pronounced Jewish thinker. In his book, "Totality And Infinity", he uses phenomena we take for granted, such as nausea, unease, and the like, and uses these to form a metaphysics with a pronounced ethical turn.

You see, when I encounter the Other, I am met with unease, even fear and trepidation. This is why I attempt to objectify the Other, to subsume him or her in my own categories, to integrate them as part of my world, to totalize the Other. What Levinas is saying is it cannot be done, and this is not the appropriate response to the questioning gaze of the Other. The responsible course of action is an act of generosity, of unilaterally opening myself up to the Other that we may enter into a relationship with each other, that by no means exhausts me or leaves me bereft of my dignity, but rather partakes in the infinity of the relation.

We do this act without asking for anything in return, not because we are completely selfless beings, but the infinitizing relationship itself is already a boon in and by itself. When we encounter the Other, what is primordial is not the fear or trepidation that is inculcated into us by society and our family, but in reality, the forgotten state of jouissance, of joy and happiness. It is, after all, a sur-prise, as we do not know what the Other holds for us, not only in the dictionary sense of the word, but also etymologically, as sur-prise means it is "beyond our grasp". Is it not a grand coincidence then, that something we often regard with joy and excitement is something that we recognize we cannot control?

As a Kantian for the longest time, I believe that this mode of thinking is radically different, but not something I am objectionable to, since I am also a pluralist. While we could have the Other kicking me while I'm down, lashing out at me, accusing me, or even demeaning me, if I open myself to the Other in spite of this, I allow myself to be infinitized and become better for it. I cannot control the Other. I cannot throw him or her under my feet to be subsumed into my world. The Other is of their world, and as such, I seek to respect that and answer their questioning gaze responsibly with an act of generosity.

Or, I could just be letting sleeping dogs lie.

2 comments:

Raiza said...

Sabi nga po nila... what is legal is different from what is moral... pero bakit nga po ba meron pang mga batas? prolly, they work superficially... pero parang mas matibang parin po eh yung nararamdaman natin na tama... eh matanong ko lang po... pano po kung sadyang nasanay lang na mabuhay sa kasamaan ang isang tao at parang nilayuan na siya ng konsensiya niya... pano pa po gagana ang sa tingin niya ay tama kung baluktot na ang pananaw niya?

Marcelle said...

Ang batas ay nandiyan upang mapanatili ang kaayusan. Aminin na natin, hindi naman natin maiisip ang ganitong mga pag-uugali ng walang nagtuturo sa atin...

Kahit na etika ang dapat maging batayan, nariyan ang batas upang tumugon sa mga pagkukulang ng mga taong tumugon sa paggawa ng tama...