Philosophy and Social Criticism 28 (5):578-604 (2002)
Levinas's notion of il y a (there is) existence is shown to be the organizing principle behind his challenge to Being and Time. The two main aspects of that challenge propose an ontology that is not entirely reduced to being-in-the-world and a correlative account of the self that is not entirely reduced to context. In that way Levinas attempts first to restore unconditional value to the self and then to 'produce' a pluralist social ontology based on the independence of persons. The il y a argument is shown to be composed of two versions, one constitutive and one axiological. It is argued that the constitutive argument fails, but that the axiological one remains pertinent. The latter, moreover, recalls a poetics of the transcendence of the work of literature and uncannily resembles the later Heidegger's own critique of Being and Time. The results contribute to a social ontology that affirms commonality without reducing the singularity of events. Key Words: Blanchot Heidegger il y a Levinas poetics self singularity social ontology transcendence.
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