Volume 75, 2001
Person, Soul, and Immortality
God and the Other Person
Levinas’s Appropriation of Kierkegaard’s Encounter with Otherness
One of the most astonishing aspects of Levinas’s philosophy is the assertion that other persons are absolutely other than the self. The difficulties attending a relationship with absolute otherness are ancient, and immediately invoke Meno’s Paradox. How can we encounter that which is not already within us? The traditional reply to Meno (anamnesis) reduces other persons to the role of midwife and thereby, says Levinas, mitigates their alterity. Although Descartes seems to provide a rejoinder to anamnesis in theThird Meditation, this response alone is not adequate for Levinas’s purpose. St. Augustine, in De Magistro, describes a form of “recollection” that accounts for infinity while still reducing the human interlocutor to the role of midwife, thus reasserting a marginal role for the other. Levinas needs additional help to overcome the specter of anamnesis, which he finds in Kierkegaard’s relationship of the individual to “the god” in the Philosophical Fragments.