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Thursday, 30 June 2016

A face and a proper name

In my classes of contemporary philosophy (where I covered Kripke a while ago and Levinas and Derrida these last few weeks) I have been feeling close again to my somehow old book of 2008 (Excesses and Exceptions). There I make an unusual connection between Levinas and Kripke. In order to consider the issue of singularity and singular thought, I engage the Other of Levinas as bearer of an appeal againtst being turned into a concept and Kripke´s account of proper names that eludes description. It is not fair to have a semantics of reference that imposes on Socrates to be a philosopher (in all possible worlds). The proper name, like the face, breaks the articulated totality of my descriptions and introduces an element that is alien to the concepts that I own (and master). The passivity in both cases is crucial - my use of a proper name inculcates responsibility on me for something I´m not fully aware, just as the decision imposed on me by the Other´s face. Also, in both cases there is an element of justice to the other that contrasts with my freedom and therefore with my thinking in my own terms.

Both thoughts - that of the Other´s face and that of the irreducible proper name - depart somehow from the Anerkennung tradition. In fact, one could fear that both thoughts would get too close from the Given. Kripke´s take, to be sure, exorcises the Given from the start as there is no epistemology relevant to reference (no acquaintance of any thing of the sort). A proper name refers independently of what else I think or know - and, at the same time, I need to be prepared in order to fully refer to someone through a proper name. To be prepared, in this case, involves to be included in a set of conceptual practices within a language. Something similar can be said about Levinas´s Other. I need to be prepared, in terms of conceptual practices, to recognize a face, and given that, a face imposes a decision on me no matter what I know or think. This is the role of the infinity in the face: it contrasts with every point in a totality. If this is so, there is no genuine cognitive act in being stricken by a face - to use a variation of Wettstein´s motto for the revolution championed by Kripke, "ethical contact without cognitive contact". No matter what, I have to decide. (The book, Excesses and Exceptions, purports to present an account of singularity where it is presented to us passively even though a preparation could be required - a kind of response-dependence account of being in touch with something singular.) In both cases, something singular has to contrast with a ready totality - it has to be something like a vanishing point.

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