Thought fails to comprehend death; its reality is known and felt in the anguish which accompanies it, as Appolodorus' tears, and the tears of so many others, witness. Yet Western thought, says Levinas, still finds it inaccessible, even though it pervades and even, for Heidegger, directs the course of human activity. Death presents alterity in its most unencompassable aspect for the subject. The integrity of death in itself, as utterly other than the subject, is yet to be addressed philosophically.
Rahner, following Maréchal, sought to answer Kant's question regarding the possibility and the scope of metaphysics -- "what can I know?" -- by pursuing the transcendental analysis of the inherent dynamism of the human spirit. As "power to know," the finite spirit intends being, since, following Aquinas' dictum, "whatever is can be known." This essential convertibility between being and knowing is articulated by Rahner in terms of self-possession. Being knows itself insofar as it possesses itself The corollary of this is that not-knowing is a lack of self-presence. Knowledge is thus essentially comprehension, a unified and unifying grasp of Being. Although human being is finite, and so not fully present-to-self or self-possessed, nonetheless the framework within which Rahner's thought unfolds is an "ontology of understanding," and the proper object which the intellect intends is Being. Questioning and acquisition go hand in hand. The fulfilment of Rahner's question is the acquisition of Being. Now, although finite spirit seeks to possess its own being and seek a certainly self-transparency in knowledge, and although this "coming- to-self" is of necessity by way of an other-than-self, the difficulty with Rahner's professed transcendental approach is that it pays less heed to the significance of what is other-than-self than it does to the self. This has already been indicated in terms of the interpretation of sensibility in terms of finite spirituality's cognitive quest rather than in terms of openness and vulnerability to what is other than the self In such a framework of transcendental questioning, to inquire is to acquire, but acquisition is always open to being understood as a result of inquisition.
It is this latent violence within Being's quest for comprehensivity and comprehension which is at the heart of Levinas' criticism of the western ontological tradition, the violence of comprehension which fails to give due regard to difference and otherness, but seeks instead to reduce the other to the same, enclosing it within an egological totality of understanding. Levinas will thus seek to pursue the totalising appara-