Monday, February 09, 2009


"The role Kant attributed to sensible experience in the domain of the understanding," Levinas tells us, "belongs in metaphysics to interhuman relations" (Totality and Infinity, p. 79). Likewise he says that "metaphysics is enacted where the social relation is enacted–in our relations with men" (p. 78). So why doesn't Levinas turn to social anthropology for any sort of metaphysical insights? Despite his emphasis on interhuman relations I think Levinas was profoundly at odds with the anthropology of his day. "The idea of infinity, the metaphysical relation, is the dawn of humanity without myths" (p. 77). Anthropology has yet to discover a humanity without myths, though of course we know of individuals who are critical of the myths which have been handed down to them. From the vantage point of anthropology infinity is a myth of the philosophers. It is reasonable, Levinas' infinity. It makes a kind of sense. For the anthropologist, however, the mythical need not be opposed to reason or sense (though for some it would of necessity be opposed to some category of thought). So while Levinas' infinity provides an instrument to critically examine the anthropologists totalizations, the anthropologists have given us a critical way of looking at Levinas' infinity. Where does the discussion go from here? Can one imagine an anthropology of infinities? Or, conversely, could one practice a metaphysics of the quotidian that, if not scientific, would not be inconsistent with a kind of scientific skepticism? How does one appreciate empirical studies of the face-to-face?

The OED word of the day is meronym. In the first, rare sense it means a word that is midway between two extremes, e.g. convex, flat, concave. (I'm afraid in its second sense the word metonym will be more commonly used.) Is it possible that a meronymic quality can be found for every concept. Take infinity. What's its midwayness, its meronymy? I suggest that the contour may be seen as a meronym of the face-to-face.

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posted by Fido the Yak at 9:33 AM.


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