Merleau-Ponty, Levinas, and the Alterity of the Other

Suggesting that phenomenology results in an “imperialism of the same” that considers the other only in terms of their effect upon the subject rather than in their genuine alterity, Levinas initiates a line of thought that can still be discerned in the work of Foucault, Derrida and Claude Lefort. However, this paper argues that Merleau-Ponty’s work is capable of avoiding this line of criticism, and that his position is an important alternative to the more dominant Derridean and Levinasian conceptions of alterity. Moreover, this essay will also extricate Merleau-Ponty from Levinas’ claim that his philosophy is “sustained by an unaccountable affection”. Rather than ignoring the alterity of the other, and also without presupposing some primordial affectionate bond with the other, Merleau-Ponty explicates an interesting conception of what responsibility towards the ‘otherness of the other’ should consist in. Basically, he insists upon the way in which self and other are always already intertwined together (or reversible), and suggests that respecting the alterity of the other should involve the imperative to further immerse oneself in this transformative bond – to transform what we think of as self, and also what we think of as ‘other’.
Keywords Merleau-Ponty  intersubjectivity  alterity  Levinas
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DOI 10.5840/symposium2002616
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Douglas Low (1992). Merleau-Ponty on Subjectivity and Intersubjectivity. International Studies in Philosophy 24 (3):45-64.

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