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Alterity and Relationship in Recent French Phenomenology

Mackinlay, Shane (2013) Alterity and Relationship in Recent French Phenomenology. In: Being Human: Groundwork for a Theological Anthropology for the 21st Century. Mosaic Press, Melbourne, pp. 123-139,. ISBN 9781743240403

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    This chapter will trace the understanding of alterity and relationship in some recent phenomenological thinkers, making clear the way in which these understandings contrast with the modern understanding of a free, autonomous and self-directed subject, typified by the Cartesian ego.
    The thinkers to be considered build on foundations established by Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger, though at the same time they suggest that Husserl and Heidegger remain within a fundamentally Cartesian understanding, because they continue to place the subject at the centre of their thought: Husserl in the constituting role he gives to consciousness (and later to the transcendental ego), and Heidegger in the place he gives to Dasein (especially in Being and Time).
    A result of this critique is a concern to engage seriously with otherness (alterity) or transcendence, insisting that it be conceived in its own right, rather than in terms of that which stands in relation to a subject and is thereby reduced to the same. Emmanuel Levinas begins with ethical demand, rather than by seeking a foundation for knowledge. Far from being the one who constitutes objects (as for Husserl), Levinas’ subject is constituted in the context of relationship, by a radical other who commands ethical responsibility: Thou shalt not kill. Intentionality is reversed, such that the subject is no longer the starting-point and centre, but becomes instead the one who is addressed by an other who is genuinely transcendent.
    In many ways, Jean-Luc Marion’s phenomenology of givenness approaches subjectivity in a very similar way to Levinas, as Marion acknowledges in his discussions of counter-intentionality. He emphasises the subject as receiving rather than constituting, as adonné, the one who receives itself along with and as part of the act of receiving phenomena.
    I believe that Levinas and Marion continue to situate their thought within the same framework as Descartes, though inverting the primacy he gives to consciousness and assigning it to the transcendent other. Thus, their thought gives rise to an inverse series of problems, in which the particularity of the subject is overlooked, along with the contribution that a subject’s interpretation makes to what is given to consciousness.
    In my view, it is only possible to escape Descartes’ framework definitively by developing an alternate ontology, which explicitly rejects the dualism that lies at the centre of his thought. Thus, rather than beginning with an opposition between subject and object, and then asking what relation can be established between them, such an ontology would begin with a fundamental relatedness that made possible all such distinctions as subject/object. The chapter will conclude by a discussion of phenomenological thinkers that is open to this sort of possibility.
    Maurice Merleau-Ponty develops Heidegger’s thought about being-in-the-world, especially in his later writings, introducing ideas such as the flesh of the world, and the interlacing that establishes a fundamental reciprocity between perceived and perceiver.
    A more recent figure who is taking up this sort of task, though in somewhat different terms, is Claude Romano. He argues that our starting-point must be that experience always happens in a world, which is not only natural, but also includes communal, historical and linguistic structures. He insists on the holism of experience, such that we include all these dimensions when we think of a subject, whose experience is never simply immanent but rather always foundationally in a world.

    Item Type: Book Chapters
    Additional Information: Book is out of print and therefore the chapter can be made available without restriction.
    Repository Version: Published Version
    Keywords (separated by commas): alterity, relationship, phenomenology, Husserl, Heidegger, Levinas, Jean-Luc Marion, Merleau-Ponty, Claude Romano
    Fields of Research: 22 Philosophy and Religious Studies > 2203 Philosophy > 220310 Phenomenology
    22 Philosophy and Religious Studies > 2204 Religion and Religious Studies > 220401 Christian Studies (incl. Biblical Studies and Church History)
    Socio-Economic Objective: E Expanding Knowledge > 97 Expanding Knowledge > 970122 Expanding Knowledge in Philosophy and Religious Studies
    Type of Activity: Pure Basic Research
    Subject Area(s): A - Philosophy
    Association with University of Divinity: CTC: Catholic Theological College
    Depositing User: Assoc. Prof. Shane Mackinlay
    Date Deposited: 04 Aug 2017 09:23
    Last Modified: 04 Aug 2017 12:41
    URI: http://repository.divinity.edu.au/id/eprint/2740

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