God as Infinity
I found an article on the Internet which focusses on Levinas' concept of God, so I posted a summary in the D(w)G community. Here is what I posted at Orkut: Below is a summary of an article from Val Petridis and Tom Fatsis in the Quodlibet Online Journal of Christian Theology and Philosophy. See also the complete article, of which I find that it gives a very good and clear description of Levinas' concept of God.
I agree with the biggest part of the conclusions, only I think that Levinas doesn't think that we cannot know anything at all about God and that there wouldn't be any link between the limited ontological world and Infinity. To welcome the other and to meet God through that, to see a glimpse of him through the other, is the highest possible form of goodness for humans. To meet the other creates ethical behaviour. Moral good / just behaviour means to welcome the other with open arms. If the other opens me up towards infinity, in my view it's logical to assume that he doesn't give me some kind of access only to Infinity but also to infinite Goodness. I am not sure if Levinas literally says this somewhere (I'll search for it), but I would strongly expect this. The Jewish religious roots are strong in Levinas' way of thinking. I cannot believe that Levinas would consider God as an anonymous neutral infinite metaphysical power who could just as well be evil as good. Since ethics are at the core of human relations for Levinas and since it is through these relations that humans can be turned to being good, through an opening up, a transcendence towards Infinity, which is offered by the other, which is only possible through the other, I really think that God should be infinite Goodness according to Levinas.But let's start now with the summary of that article.
Throughout his works Emmanuel Levinas has used various terminologies to refer to God. In every case God is described as infinite unknowable, unsayable and unsignifyable. In the “Trace of the Face“ Levinas refers to God as the Unknown and absolute other. In Totality and Infinity, Levinas calls God the absolute other and in Otherwise than Being he uses the term the otherwise than being. I will show that these concepts are completely compatible with one another and are based on the same premises. Furthermore, it will be argued that term God is a phrase or ideatum that refers to that which cannot be known, signified, or contained in any expression of language. Levinas’ God will be shown to everything that can never be known or said. This God is not the personal deity depicted in typical religiosity, Levinas’ God is not a divinity that interacts with the human world, rather this God is that which lies beyond the limits of what humans can ever experience or know. It will be shown that the term God as found in Levinas work can be easily substituted by any other term that refers to that which is beyond everything contained within that which can be known. Thus, I will prove that Levinas use of the terms infinite, the unknown, the absolute other and the otherwise than being to refer to the same non-religious God or the something that is absolutely beyond being. The term God refers to that which a secular term like infinity could as easily be used to referred to without losing any of its intended connotations lost in the substitution of one term for the other. In fact, I will show that the term God is more problematic than its secular counterparts as it contains religious presuppositions that are not contained in Levinas formulation of that which lies beyond being. In this sense, Levinas’ terms for God secularize divinity and relegate God to a concept acceptable even to atheists.
This is not the God of religion rather a term used as an ideatum of that which is always beyond what humans will ever know. This God who will never fulfill any of the characteristics usually attributed to God and even if God did, no one would ever know it.
I will commence by examining the idea of the unknown as presented by Levinas in “The Trace of the Face“. The perpetual unknown is infinite. No matter what one encounters and absorbs into one’s horizon the unknown continually exists and remains infinite beyond the self’s horizon. What lies beyond the limits of the known will always be infinite and unknown. This seems to suggest that part of the infinity of the unknown can be encompassed within the known and made finite within one’s horizon. However, Levinas seems to also imply the unknown is always unknown and always stands outside the horizon of the known as the infinite unknown. The trace it leaves behind as the self absorbs more of the unknown into the self’s horizon is a trace of evidence that erases itself and only exists in the moment of transition when something unknown becomes known. Thus, one can only realize the dichotomy between the unknown and the known at the moment of transition from the former to the latter. The unknowable will never be part of that which can be known. Its absolute alterity is always beyond the self’s horizon. In Totality and Infinity, Levinas claims that infinity is a good term for the absolute other or God. An ideatum is a term used to refer to something without attempting to encompass it, to make reference to its content or claim to know anything about it. An ideatum does not signify an object of being, rather it refers to that which cannot be signified and lies beyond being. Infinity refers to a concept that is beyond human comprehension. One transcends to the realization of the absolute other when the self’s idea of totality becomes disrupted by the presence of the face of the other. The other who faces me is more than what I can sense, the other holds hidden secrets that I cannot completely grasp, never. At the moment one’s idea of totality becomes disrupted in the face to face with the other, one transcends to an experience of the face to face with the absolute other (God). The absolute other is unknowable and unsignifyable. The face of the absolute other is an ideatum that only assumes the existence of that which cannot be known and lies beyond being. Levinas’ ideatum of infinity as presented in Totality and Infinity seems to indicate a concept that is beyond any finite set or idea and overflows any reference to it.
So, in short, whatever this infinity may be, no one will ever know. If it is God it is more akin to deism than any interactive concept of a personal God usually proffered by most world religions. This God does not act in creation as propertied by religions like Judaism and Christianity.
The traditional characteristics attributed to God become problematic in the face of the premises Levinas uses to refer to the unknowable beyond being or what he calls God. Traditionally God is described as Omnipresent, Omniscient, Omnipotent and all good. Since Levinas’ God does not interact with the world of being and being is the bases of the known, God remains unknowable. Even if Levinas’ God had any of the above-mentioned attributes no one within Being, such as a living human, would ever know it. As Levinas claims in Totality and Infinity, this God is better worshipped in silence without any type of homage than worshipped with any sense of piety.
In conclusion, I have shown that the Unknown, Infinity, the absolute other and the otherwise than being are compatible with a secularized idea of God. These terms, including God, are ideatums which are used by Levinas to refer to that which cannot be contain in any expression of knowledge or language. Levinas’ God is everything that can never be known or said. This God is not the personal deity typical of religiosity. Levinas’ God is not a divinity that interacts with the human world causing the great feats described in many religions.. Rather this God is that which lies beyond the limits of what humans can ever know or interact with. It has been shown that the term God in Levinas’ work can be easily substituted by any term that refers to that which is beyond everything contained within that which can be known. The term God refers to that which a secular term like infinity could be used to referred to without losing any of its intended connotations. In fact, I have shown that the term God is more problematic than its secular counterparts as he term God contains religious presuppositions that are not contained in Levinas formulation of that which lies beyond Being. In this sense, Levinas terms for the beyond Being or God secularize divinity and relegates God to a concept acceptable to even Atheists. This is not the God of religion rather it is a term used as an ideatum of that which is always beyond what humans will ever know. This God will never fulfil any of the characteristics usually attributed to God and even if God did, according to Levinas formulations of God as completely unknowable, no one would ever know it.
Contractarianism" names both a political theory of the legitimacy of political authority and a moral theory about the origin and/or legitimate content of moral norms. The political theory of authority claims that legitimate authority of government must derive from the consent of the governed, where the form and content of this consent derives from the idea of contract or mutual agreement. The moral theory of contractarianism claims that moral norms derive their normative force from the idea of contract or mutual agreement. Contractarians are thus skeptical of the possibility of grounding morality or political authority in either divine will or some perfectionist ideal of the nature of humanity. Social contract theorists from the history of political thought include Hobbes, Locke, Kant, and Rousseau.
I personally see religion an extension of social contract and narrative disciplinary measures to control social discourses.
I believe instead questioning presence and the nature of realisation of GOD one has to retrace the archaeological concept of God. Assuming religion is a mean of social discipline where individual members enter into foreseen or unforseen social contracts, then it makes sense to have a symbolic presence of a power that foresees the cohesion of social contracts be it though punishment or fear of punishment in later stages of life.....
Any ways just a thought...I would be glad to discuss this further with you and your other friend. BTW, where is the community on God that you and your friend have created?
Here's the link to D(w)G: http://www.orkut.com/Community.aspx?cmm=5033657
Hobbes' philosophy is interesting, but on the other hand Levinas' philosophy is totally opposed to the idea of social contracts as a foundation for ethics.
When you wish to stimulate moral just behaviour, there are two different points from where you could start: the individual/informal level or the collective/formal level.
Moral behaviour can be the result either of an internal drive or from external pressure.
I can decide to be good because my conscience tells me to do so, or because I am afraid to be punished by the society when I break its rules.
For Levinas the urge to be good cannot be derived from external institutionalised laws. An urge to be good can only come from the inside, it is enrooted in the individual who chooses how he will be behave. The face of the other awakes my conscience, because the other makes an appeal to me, I feel an urge to behave in a morally good way. When the other makes this appeal, it is God who looks over his shoulder.
The primary original source of any ethical relation is always the other that makes an appeal to the first person. When the other makes me responsible for how I react to him, this is not a mutual contract. It is not something we formally agree upon, a contract that we could sign because it's beneficial to both of us.
The appeal of the other is something that strikes me by accident. It has already happened before I realise what is happening. I am confronted with his naked face and I feel an urge to respond. The other is my master, I am his hostage, I cannot avoid his gaze. I can decide to kill him, I can choose to behave immorally, but only after I deliberately decided to ignore his appeal.
You cannot create an institutionalised well-functioning society when you only look at this bilateral ethical relation. The society consists of many of these bilateral relations, and also of trilateral and more multilateral relations. Levinas says that apart from the first and the other person, we also have to take the third person into account. Maybe there is not only the other person who stands in front of me who asks for my help, maybe there is another person further away who needs my help more then the other who stands in front of me.
The level of bilateral contact cannot automatically be converted to a collective level. At the collective level there have to be general laws, there has to be an independant court of justice to judge behaviour of people. It's impossible to judge all behaviour on an individual basis.
But this collective level always bears the risk of becoming totalitarian. When a state decides about the fate of individuals, there is always a risk that the individual rights will be violated.
The basis of morality / ethics is at the indiviudal and bilateral level. Collective rules should always respect these individual principles, the relation with the individual level should never be forgotten or be neglected, every collective rule should trace back to an individual principle.
A social contract cannot found ethics according to Levinas and religion cannot be an extension of a social contract. The basis of any ethical relation is how the first person is confronted with the face of the other. Through this confrontation/liberation the first person can see a glimpse of God who is Infinity.
For Levinas there is in principle no system of rewards and punishments needed. It can be useful to add it at the collective level, but rewards and punishments are not very strong ethical incentives to promote good behaviour.
If I only do something because I would like to receive the promised reward, or because I am afraid to be punished otherwise, then my motives are just selfish. When nobody watches, so when I won't be rewarded or punished, I can be as bad as I like. And God is not a person who will reward or punish people, he is infinite Goodness and humans can feel some of that positive power inside of them, when the other wakes the first person up.
When I am waken up by the other, I feel a desire to be good, I feel a longing for the totally other, I want to help him and to be good to him. I don't need to be rewarded for that. To satisfy that desire is already enough.
Sorry for offtopic
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