The Other

September 18, 2004

How can we learn about ourselves? By facing the Other.

Some time ago, I wrote about relationships and referred to
Martin Buber. Emmanuel Levinas was inspired by the work
of Buber and became one of the greatest French philosophers
of the twentieth century. Levinas pointed out that we can
only learn about ourselves by facing other beings that are not
us (the Other). We cannot share our existence—we can only
talk about it. And it is the human interaction that makes the
learning possible. We have to meet the Other, face to face.

In Humanism of the Other, Levinas raised ethics to a higher
level than just a discussion of pure ontology and knowledge
about being.

Totality and Infinity describes the difference between the
infinity and the self. It explains how we can be the self, the
subject, that seems to be separated from the infinity. Levinas
clarified the reason for the subjectivity and the illusion of sep-
aration from the Other and the infinity.

The purpose of subjectivity is to teach us about the unity
but one can learn about it only by being separated and being
in relation to other beings. And this lesson seems to be so
hard for us. We regard ourselves as special and unique. We are
not like the others. But the bottom line is that we are all the
same—part of the infinity and the unity. Our perceived sepa-
ration is an illusion that temporarily hides us from the truth.
And this lesson seems to take ages for us. Individualism and
selfishness are the popular themes of our time. Still, deep
inside we feel and know that all life is equal—part of the
same, the one.

This is the original text, and an edited version can be found in the Fragments of Reality -book.