Study Guide

Paul Ricouer - The Alterity Squad

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The Alterity Squad

This clique of French continental philosophers had a reputation for being interested in others—or, to be more precise, the Other. In one way or another, the members of the Alterity Squad defined themselves by others who were not in the clique. Weird, we know, but there were weirder things going on in Paris.

Gabriel Marcel

A philosopher and a playwright, Mystery Man Marcel was known for his work on "inter-subjectivity," the way in which persons encounter each other as persons and not merely as objects or things. A hopeful, existential fellow, Marcel believed that one person could be present to the Other, because of the differences between each person. Marcel called for an ethic of openness or hospitality—welcoming the Other in the Other's difference, uniqueness, and mystery. Not exactly cliquish.

Emmanuel Levinas

The best friend Otherness ever had, Levinas insisted that alterity—Otherness—should be respected as absolute. He argued that philosophy typically disrespects Otherness by describing it as something less than fully Other. (Bear with us.) For example, to describe another person as a human being is not to describe what makes that human being different but what makes him or her the same—in this case a specific kind of being. Otherness is transcendent and indescribable; you get a trace of it only in face-to-face encounters with the Other.

Jacques Derrida

The father of deconstruction was another friend of alterity. He thought that philosophical work should be focused on "deconstructing" texts in order to open them up and expose them to what they exclude. Derrida thought that all use of language includes and excludes: to say something is one thing is to say it is not something else.

Not being a realist, philosophically speaking, Derrida didn't think reality itself could always account for what is included and excluded. He therefore focused on how the text itself did the including and excluding.

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