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(1987) Collected philosophical papers, Dordrecht, Springer.

The ego and the totality

Emmanuel Levinas

pp. 25-45

A particular being can take itself to be a totality only if it is thoughtless. Not that it is deceiving itself or thinking badly or foolishly; it is not thinking. We do of course see the freedom or violence of individuals. For us thinking beings, who have knowledge of the totality and situate every particular being relative to it, and seek a meaning for the spontaneity of violence, this freedom seems to give evidence of individuals who confuse their particularity with the totality. This confusion in individuals is not thought, but life. A being that has life in the totality exists as a totality, lives as though it occupied the center of being and were its source, as though it drew everything from the here and now, in which it was nonetheless put or created. For it the forces that traverse it are already forces assumed; it experiences them as already integrated into its needs and its enjoyment. What a thinking being perceives as exteriority that calls for work and appropriation, a living being as such experiences as its substance, consubstantial with it, essentially immediate, an element and a vital medium. This — in the philosophical sense of the term — cynical 1 behavior of a living being we find also in man — through abstraction, to be sure, since thought has already transfigured life in concrete man. It figures as the relation one has with nourishment, in the very general sense that every enjoyment enjoys something, a "something" whose independence has been taken away. The being that is assumed by a living being, the assimilable — are nutriments.2

Publication details

DOI: 10.1007/978-94-009-4364-3_3

Full citation:

Levinas, E. (1987). The ego and the totality, in Collected philosophical papers, Dordrecht, Springer, pp. 25-45.

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