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Metaphysics and the other

By David Boothroyd


This thesis is about the relationship between ethics and language in the work of the contemporary French philosopher Emmanuel Levinas. The approach taken is to place his work in the context of a current debate in philosophy about the limits of language and the end(s) of philosophy. In the first chapter it looks at the place and significance of the thinking of Hegel, Heidegger, Nietzsche, and Derrida in this debate, and locates Levinas' thinking within it by examining his reading of Descartes. The thesis then goes on to examine the major themes in Levinas' work and offers an interpretation of his claims for the `primacy' of the ethics which demonstrates their bearing on the traditional concern with the relationship between metaphysics and the other. The thesis makes special reference throughout to Jacques Derrida's first major essay on Levinas, `Violence and Metaphysics'. The thesis demonstrates the sense in which in Levinas `ethics' is the `enactment' of the philosophical concern with the other. It explores in detail the overlap between this concern with the other in philosophy and the relationship to the other person, in Levinas' thinking. This is undertaken, in this thesis, in the form of a detailed analysis of the relationship between the key notions of the face to face and the third party as is found in his first major work Totality and Infinity. The analysis is then extended to the later work Otherwise than Being or Beyond Essence. In this context, the thesis demonstrates how the beyond being is held to signify within philosophy, by inspiring philosophy with the thought of the other. The thesis as a whole considers how, in Levinas, the beyond being and the relation to the other are antecedent to their thematic representation in philosophy. It examines how the necessity of their representation is related, in Levinas, to a certain injustice vis a vis the other person

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