Givenness and Alterity

Idealistic Studies 33 (1):1-7 (2003)
Abstract
If we trace the word phenomenon to its Greek origin, we find it is the participle of the verb, phainesthai, “to show itself.” The phenomenon is that which shows itself; it is the manifest. As Heidegger noted, phenomenology is the study of this showing. It examines how things show themselves to be what they are.1 One of the most difficult problems faced by phenomenology is the mystery of our self-showing. How do we show ourselves to be what we are? How do we manifest our selfhood to one another? To put these questions in the Husserlian context of intention and fulfillment is to ask: What do we intend when we direct ourselves to another person? What sort of fulfillment—i.e., what kind of givenness—satisfies this intention? Once we speak in terms of intention and fulfillment, we face a number of possibilities. The givenness of what we intend can exactly match our intentions. It can be other than what we intend—as is the case when we are simply mistaken. The givenness also can be less. It can, for example, not offer the detail that was part of our intentions. Finally, givenness can exceed our intentions. In showing itself, the object offers us more than what was intended. In this paper, I am going to defend the claim that this excessive givenness happens systematically when we intend another person. To intend another person is, paradoxically, to intend the other as exceeding one’s intentions. As such, the showing which manifests the presence of the other is a kind of “supersaturated givenness.” It is a givenness that makes us aware that more is being given than we can formulate in our intentions. This awareness points to the other’s freedom. It is also a moral awareness. Here, I will argue that our awareness of the other’s excessive givenness is our entrance into morality.2 I In continental philosophy, we have long been accustomed to thinking of the other, not in terms of givenness, but rather the reverse. We think of the other as not being able to be given..
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