Central and East European
Society for Phenomenology

Conference | Paper

The Otherness of the Other between Knowledge and Acknowledgement

Branko Klun

Thursday 2 December 2021

17:00 - 17:40

Zoom 1-1

It is probably the principal merit of Levinas that the question of otherness or alterity has been radicalized in a new and hitherto unthought way. Levinas’s approach, however, leads to an epistemological and even logical paradox. The radical otherness, which transcends knowledge and reason, should somehow “affect” the knowing subject, but in this act, it risks losing its transcendent status. If otherness becomes known, it is no longer totally other, and if it is not known (in all possible versions of knowledge, including the practical one), it has no meaning at all. Levinas wants to overcome this theoretical impasse by showing its positive ethical meaning: the logical paradox of absolute otherness is the source of a never-ending ethical call, which transforms the very understanding of philosophy and pleads for its original ethical vocation (qua responsibility for the other). In this paper, I suggest another approach to the question of otherness: the act of knowing (or intentionality) implies a distinct but inseparable act of “will” (“intention”), which is not determined by theoretical necessity, but by subject’s practical freedom. Kant was perfectly aware that we cannot approach another person purely by his/her theoretically and transcendentally constituted meaning, but we have to adopt the attitude of “Achtung” (respect), which grants the other person his/her transcendent status within the phenomenal world. Similarly, the act of knowing the other implies the decision of an “acknowledgment” of his/her otherness. We could even speak of a voluntary “belief” (not to use the word “faith”) inherent to every knowledge. Is such an explanation compatible with Levinas’s approach or does it betray his original motives?