The Paradox of Justice and Love: Emmanuel Levinas and Gabriel Marcel on the Nature of Otherness

Dissertation, Boston College (2001)

Authors
Brian Treanor
Loyola Marymount University
Abstract
This dissertation opens, or perhaps re-opens, a dialogue between the work of Emmanuel Levinas and that of Gabriel Marcel. These two thinkers, each in his own way a philosopher of "the other," both provide us with descriptions of the intersubjective relationship. However, the remarkable similarity of these descriptions is matched by a frustrating incompatibility. The remarkable similarity manifests itself in the emphasis both philosophies place on the unique and in some sense inviolable position of the other person with respect to the self and, further, in advocating the service of the other by the self. The incompatibility is the result of two entirely different, seemingly contradictory, accounts of the nature of the other person: Levinas insists the other person is absolutely other, while Marcel maintains this otherness in only relative. ;Following a short introduction, chapters two and three provide a foundation for the later chapters by offering a summary of the work of Levinas and Marcel respectively. Chapters four and five look critically at Marcel and Levinas in turn, identifying problems or ambiguities in their thought, and investigate the extent to which the points of opposition between them are insurmountable obstacles to a reconciliation. These chapters examine both the concrete and pragmatic implications of each thinker's philosophy and the transcendental positions that condition these implications. Chapter six, based on the preceding four chapters, attempts to ascertain why what appear to be responses to similar callings have resulted in dissimilar philosophies. The obstacle that ultimately prevents the harmonization of these two philosophies is a different understanding of "otherness," which is itself in no small part the result of different understandings of how one relates to God. Finally, the concluding chapter offers some brief thoughts on how this dialogue might proceed from here, given the similar inspiration, the parallel exposition and, yet, the fundamental incompatibility of these two thinkers
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