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Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Levinas' infinitism

Today in my course on Levinas we were discussing his thesis, in "Vérité et Justice" (T&I), that criticism should lead not to the thesis that spontaneity is incompetent for knowledge but that it is unworthy because unfair to the Other. Doubt - as criticism should precede theory as much as metaphysics should precede ontology - is a moral concern. Although since Sextus the movement of doubting is described in terms of other voices, diaphonia, the insufficiency of reasons shown in cases of underdetermination etc, the idea that the trouble that epokhé creates was technical and not ethical prevailed. Levinas provides an ethical interpretation of criticism: one suspends judgement because of the Other, because the Other sets limits on my freedom and on my spontaneity - justice invests on my freedom, makes it worthy.

Now, Levinas holds that the Other is infinity. And that infinity is not anything theoretical but something related to moral transcendence through the Other. Infinity is perhaps never thought in terms of actual infinity - an actual infinity is put at service of totality just like what Deleuze describes Hegel and Leibniz doing in the first chapter of D&R. In other words, infinity is thought by Levinas in opposition to totality. There is no infinity leading to a totality (or to an absorption of all difference). He takes criticism to be an instance where the Other and a different world is revealed - and therefore an infinity is revealed. The alternative to that ethical reading of the epistemology of spontaneity (and of epistemology in general) that condemns freedom is to find criticism as pointing always as something technical that requires spontaneity to be somehow supplemented in the epistemological endeavor but never challenged. He believes that the technical fix - psychological or otherwise - would be found always wanting. And then he writes that this path would yield an infinite regress. Interestingly, the "infinite" in this diagnosis of infinite regress is not the one that is non-theoretical (but moral) as he advocates. Still, this is precisely the point: the infinite regress points at the theoretically (technically) incompleteness of any solution that could make theory immune to criticism. Only an infinitist solution is possible: acknowledging the Other, denouncing spontaneity. (This is the infinite regress that provides an epistemological solution - a moral one.)

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