Mystery and Method: The Other in Rahner and Levinas

By Michael Purcell | Go to book overview
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For Levinas, metaphysics intends that good rather than being. Already in Existence and Existents, he mapped out the "general guideline for his research" as "the Platonic formula that situates the Good beyond Being" ( Levinas 1978, 15). Human transcendence is a transcendence, not towards Being, but towards the Good. In Otherwise than Being, he notes that "[t]he diachronic ambiguity of transcendence lends itself to this choice, to this option for the ultimacy of being" and then questions whether "this choice" is "the only philosophical one" ( Levinas 1981, 95). Instead of the question that the "ultimacy of being" lies behind the signification of the "one- for-the-other," he proposes "the Platonic word, Good beyond being," which "excludes being from the Good" (ibid.). In Totality and Infinity, he indicates that "[t]o be for the Other is to be good" ( Levinas 1979, 261).

What we wish to enquire after in this chapter is whether Levinas' choice for the Good and his privileging of the Good over Being, is appropriate. Levinas' choice is a choice between two alternatives, which is really no choice. Is there not perhaps what we might term a tertium gaudens which is neither in the alternation of Good and Being, but in the very goodness of Being. Being itself is not opposed to the Good, but is itself good. Being and the Good are One. What we want to argue is that it is not so much a question of the otherwise than being but of being otherwise, and particularly of being otherwise than Levinas' comprehension of being. Levinas, of course, disavows this notion, saying that "[t]ranscendence is passing over to being's other, otherwise than being. Not to be otherwise, but otherwise than being. And not to not-be..." ( Levinas, 1981, 3). Nonetheless, before one can consent to this "otherwise than being," one needs to be clear about the "being" which one is called to be "otherwise than," which is perhaps to raise again the perennial question which is the question of the meaning of being. In other words, for Levinas, the meaning of the metaphysical relationship with the Other cannot be answered in terms of being. But what, for Levinas, is the meaning of being such


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