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Freedom in the First Person

After having followed idealistic philosophy to its absurd extreme, Rosenzweig faced the task of saving human-being. The aim of this critique was to safeguard the ultimate dignity of man. In trying to do so, he took a very difficult path. He set himself the task of reconstructing the forms of God, world and man, starting from the final point of idealism. He joined with the uncompleted project of Schellings later positive philosophy, as it is termed in his Philosophie der Offenbarung, among others: One is to state forcefully that what appears in the end is also already a start or the beginning. However, God is to be different at the onset from what he is at the end. As beginning he is not but the beginning of the end, the end of himself. (Schelling, 132). Positive philosophy is complementary to negative philosophy. The latter started from the immanence of thinking in order to end with Gods transcendence; the former the other way around. The difference lies not in the object, but in the manner in which it is called into question. However, positive philosophy, which is a narrative one, tries to throw light on the factuality of reality (the that) and on the fact that existing rationality is actually as it is. The movement of positive philosophy is a reflection on the factual origin of thinking, namely human freedom and the existence of God. Positive philosophy begins with the end points of negative philosophy. Rosenzweig calls them the threefold Nought. Methodologically, Rosenzweig bears a close resemblance to the thinking of origins of Hermann Cohen. The deduction from something out of nothing can take place in two ways: 1. That what is not nothing, can be affirmed. Since nothing is a limit-concept (cf mathematics of infinity) it is not an absolute nothing, but the nothing of something, so it is something (The nothing is not nothing but something, namely death). The affirmation leads to the essence. Is it a kind of an involution. 2. That what is nothing, can be denied. The negation leads to freedom. It is a kind a of revolution. 1

Hermann Cohen discovered in mathematics an organon of thinking, precisely because mathematics does not produce its elements out of the empty nothing of the one and universal zero, but out of the nothing of the differential, a definite nothing in each case related to the elements it was seeking. The differential combines in itself the properties of the nothing and of the something; it is a nothing that refers to a something, to its something, and at the same time a something that still slumbers in the womb of the nothing. It thus determines two paths that go from the nothing to the something, the path of the affirmation of that which is not nothing, and the path of the negation of the nothing (Star, 27-28). The something originates through the confirmation of what is possible, or in other words, what lies at the limit of the Nought and through denial of the indeterminate in the fertile womb of the Nought. Due to its bringing forth something from out of the Nought, Rosenzweig considers the mathematics of differential calculus to be the royal road for the conceptual construction of God, world and man. He extrapolates the thinking of origins to philosophy. He replaces the limit-concept of differential calculus (the infinitesimal) with the three terms of idealistic reflection.

a. The Structure of MAN

Rosenzweig describes the fundamental structure of human existence through the affirmation of possible being and through the denial of the Nothing. Man appears as an irreducible essence with an inner richness and as an individual freedom that opposes itself the Nought. 1

The Essential Content of Humanity

Character and ethos constitute human essence. Character belongs to the foundations of human existence.

Emmanuel Levinas as well describes human uniqueness in an analogous, double way. See Levinas, De lunicit, Archivio di Filosofia 54(1986): 301-307.

1. It designates transitoriness and contingency. Man is pure transience and nothing more than a fleeting breath (see Ecclesiastes 1:2; 12:8). 2. The character of man is also his essence, his material content, the whole of his inner capacities of humanity. The irreducibility of human character is the experience of an inner richness that exists separated with regard to the world and God. Man first of all experiences his essence or the ground of his being as the endorsement of his particular possibilities to exist. 3. Character is also without needs. As a finite essence, situated within world events before any relationality, man is self-contained. Man is no Mangelwesen or lack of being, but rather a complete identity. The resistance to totalization which becomes possible is not a formal negation of totality, but a resistance that comes into existence because man suffices to himself. Plenitude and independence are conditions of his relationality.

The axis of necessity within man not only consists in his character, but also in the whole of the ethical norms which man acknowledges as his own. Rosenzweig uses the term ethos in its equivocal sense. The Greek thos means dwelling-place, habit, attitude, inner mentality. It refers to the fundamental condition of existence, the finite being, the ontological place of man and character. But the Greek thos also means habit, morals. This term was once easily connected with ethical-normative thought. The possibility of moral life forms an essential given for man. The moral world is a possibility for the autonomous person. Humanity lasts as long as people are capable of doing

the right thing. In his marvelous novel Vie et Destin, the Russian Jew Vassili Grossman writes about the small goodness in a text which deals with Stalinism and Nazism: It is the goodness of an old woman who, at the edge of a path, is giving a chunk of bread to the passing beggar; it is the goodness of a soldier who offers his drinking-bowl to a wounded enemy, the goodness of the youth that concerns itself with the elderly, the goodness of the farmer who hides an aged Jew in his barn. It is the goodness of these warders who, at the peril of their own freedom, are smuggling letters of prisoners addressed to their wives and mothers. (383 French edition)

The existence of the possibilities for such goodness, the possibilities for concrete ethical action, enables man to resist any nihilistic relativization of his being. It is the struggle of Antigone. Man is not autonomous through his moral capacities. The possibility of ethics renders him distinctive vis--vis the surrounding world and the infinite God. Yet man cannot be reduced to his ethical capacities alone. The ethical possibilities are neither more nor less a part of the human self. Man has his ethos, including established moral values, but in his freedom, he transcends this given. Genuine action consists in the relation of freedom to ethical possibilities that belong implicitly to human essence. Through freedom, man lives jenseits von Gut und Bse. Therefore, man is called to be meta-ethical.

The Individual Freedom of Man

Human freedom emerges from the negation of the Nothing. By withstanding the threats of the sciences that reduce man to an object of study, immanent world history and religious participation, man effects himself as freedom. According to Rosenzweig, freedom is not an ontological characteristic or an attribute of man, but the qualified freedom of an existent that tears itself loose from the threats. Freedom is the possibility of negating non-being. Or conversely, freedom is the possibility of self-determination. This self-determination or autonomy is the outcome of a negative demarcation of the self from the other. In this sense,

the freedom of man is an unconditional freedom. It is not a thing among other things; it does not belong to the phenomenal world. It falls fully outside of the concatenation of causal determinations. Neither can it annul itself as freedom. Human freedom is a freedom of the will. God, in his omnipotence, possesses an absolute freedom of action. Mans freedom cannot be but a freedom of the will since he is structurally finite. Nevertheless, as already stated by Kant, this freedom of the will is a wonder in the world of phenomena. Man differs from any content of the world or external determination through his freedom. This not only makes him refractory to totalization because of his positive, inner richness, but also through the active negation of totalization. Through the noumenality of freedom, man is separated from the phenomenality of the world.

Man between Necessity and Freedom

The human form consists in the connection between the pole of facticity (the intrinsically given richness of man) and the pole of freedom. Human dynamical freedom is directly concerned with its essence. Formal freedom takes up the substantial givenness (character as the potential for humanity) as an assignment. In this self-consciousness, the form appears as the actualization of freedom. The human form is not an abstract concept, but the unity of a freedom and a content. Character and ethos are the material conditions and necessary preconditions of mans existing in the way of a finite form. Because of the connection of the formal, noumenal freedom with content, the human self appears as a qualified freedom. Human essence is the materiality which is taken up by freedom as the content of action. This substantive determination means a qualification of freedom from a substantive richness and possibility.

b. The Meaning of Human Freedom

1. As materially determined freedom, man is sufficient to himself. Freedom finds itself solely confronted with its own essence. The ultimate meaning of freedom resides in its ethical self-realization. 2. The self-containment means that man is distinct from and independent of God and the world. In this respect, one can speak of atheism and a-topism. The monadic existence of man can be circumscribed from the inner richness (the endorsement of ones own possibilities) and from freedom (the negation of the inhuman). Atopism and atheism constitute the natural condition of man. Rosenzweig introduces a fundamental Seinsdifferenz between God, world and man. Through the positive endorsement of his finitude, man can exist autonomously. From an inner wealth, he breaks the power that enco mpasses him. The experience of finitude or of ones own death means a caesura within any ontological and dialectical monism. For Rosenzweig, taking human existence seriously implies all bonds with exteriority are severed. The logical-ontological unity of idealism is replaced with a multiform and fragmented universe. The triad of God, world and man supplies its points of focus. Moreover, man is marked by an inner Differenz that reveals his tragic character. This inner difference (between essence and will) will make relationality possible.

Levinas: The Separation as a Break with Totality 1. Analogous to Rosenzweigs construct of man, Levinas, in his early texts, worked out the concept of hypostasis. However, in Totality and Infinity, he writes about separation or rupture. An important concomitant shift was in the place of the there is. Whereas the there is initially functioned as the horizon of inhumanity opposed by the hypostasis, in Totality and Infinity, the there is appears to be the flip side of the elemental and the inner limit of enjoyment. This shift has everything to do with the phenomenological method of Levinas. 2. Yet, one might think that Levinas could not but disagree on principle with the contentions of Rosenzweig on the Nothing. In Rosenzweig, the tragic figure is the man who tries to free himself from the Nothing. At first reading, Levinas seems to be less concerned with his own life, but with the life of the other (cf. Humanism of the other man). His ethics is an ethics of the face of the other. For the study of this issue the relationship with Kierkegaard is elucidative.

a. Kierkegaard, Rosenzweig and Levinas

One might understand the negative appraisal of Kierkegaard by Levinas from the attention he pays to the other: The I is conserved then in goodness, without its resistance to system manifesting itself as the egoist cry of the subjectivity, still concerned for happiness or salvation, as in Kierkegaard. (TI, 305) and: It is not I who resist the system, as Kierkegaard thought; it is the other. (TI 40) This is contrasted with Rosenzweigs appraisal of Kierkegaard: Kierkegaard, and not only he, contested the Hegelian integration of revelation into the All from such an Archimedean fulcrum. (Star 7).

Although this, the face of the other presupposes quite a lot that is linked to what Rosenzweig writes on human subjectivity as a solipsistic core. The relationship of alterity with the transcendent is reflected within the intimacy of the totality itself: This beyond the totality and objective experience is, however, not to be described in a purely negative fashion. It is reflected within the totality and history, within experience. (TI 23) The relationship with alterity presupposes a subjectivity which escapes negativity. This attempt at evasion means that nothingness is an original threat against which man revolts in the manner of a split or separation. The separation does not only relate to the super -human of the infinite, but also to the inhumanity of the infra -human. The terms totality and infinitude are determined by the interpretation of the relational quality of the conjunction and. This is why Levinas cannot fully write off the thinking pattern of Kierkegaard. We think it safe for us to say that Levinas acknowledges as partially valuable the concept of subjectivity, certainly as Rosenzweig interpreted it: The strong notion of existence which European thought owes to Kierkegaard amounts to maintaining human subjectivity and the dimension of interiority it opens as absolute, separated, standing on the hither side of objective Being; but it also involves, paradoxically, defending the irreducible position of the subject against idealism. (Proper Names, 66) b. Separation as the Fragmentation of Totality

Separation means the implosion or fragmentation of totality: Thought and interiority are the very break-up of being and the production of transcendence. (TI40). This striking statement warns us of the pitfalls of equating the concept of totality with separation or the same and the concept of infinitude with the other. The interiority of the separation already means an irruption of infinity. In what sense can we understand this? In this chapter we focus on the separation. The next question will be how separation relates to the infinite.

The section Atheism or the Will (TI 53-60) depicts the splintering of totality from a confrontation with the issues of history and God. Moreover, the separation or split is not a static given, but a process of identification throughout the relationship with that which befalls it.

The significance of psychism becomes clear from its resistance to history and to death. Totalization can occur within history. The problem of war, and for Levinas the holocaust as well, supplies the most important metaphor. But historiography too historicism that Rosenzweig criticizes following that

reduces man to a relative component of an ongoing

process. The chronological order of the historiographers offers a schedule in which everything is given its place and by which the particular existents lose their identities. Insertion into the historical framework occurs either after the concrete existents have died or in their absence. But individual death and birth do not derive their significance from history. For the historian, death is the end. By contrast, to the individual, death and the fear of death are not invitations to passivity, but are rather the impetus for resisting annihilation or totalization. In contrast to the objective death of a third person, the individual fear of death is related to ones own first person. This individual secret means the shattering of the all-encompassment of historical time. Interiority exists outside of historical time. It is trans-historical. As such, it is marked by dealing in ones own way with time. It is not the objective and externally accessible annals and chronicles that structure the individuals time, but the individual who rescues his humanity from the objectifying time through memory, interiorization. The relation to alterity is possible for this interior life because it is separated with regard to history, or irreducible to it. This allows a judgment to be passed on history. Like Rosenzweig, Levinas clearly alludes to the Hegelian problematic of the Weltgericht.

The eschatological notion of judgment (contrary to the judgment of history in which Hegel wrongly saw its rationalization) implies that beings have an identity before eternity, before the accomplishment of history, before the fullness of time. (TI 23)

Separation is also separated with regard to the infinite or God. It is not only a-topical, which makes it fall outside of world history, but it is atheistic as well. Levinas discriminates between two forms of atheism. (TI 77) First of all we have the kind of atheism that opposes an ill-conceived concept of God. If God is experienced as a mysterium tremendum et fascinosum (Rudolph Otto), it engulfs human subjectivity. Man then participates from within in the deity, which causes him to become lost in it. The Deity then is turned into an overwhelming power that no longer allows man any independence. Levinas regards this concept of god as a possible concretization of or way of access the there is. In Existence and Existents, he refers explicitly to the idea of God in Lvy-Bruhl. The description of the subject as separation means a breach within this depersonalized totality. By positing himself as a psychic interiority, the subject severs himself from the numinous impersonality of the divine powers. Moreover, we have structural or metaphysical atheism. The event of separation is already the event of infinity. Atheism, properly understood, is a precondition for discussing the infinite. In order to be able to speak of a relation of transcendence, one must conceive man as separated vis--vis God: By atheism we thus understand a position prior to both the negation and the affirmation of the divine, the breaking with participation.(TI58) Levinas understands this form of atheism from the point of view of creation. The description of separated being as atheistic makes clear that separation maintains itself in existence in a completely independent way, without participating in the Being from which it is separated. (TI58) This formulation means that separation is atheistic 10

by nature. This is not an absolute negation of God. On the contrary, the glory of God consists in having set up a being that is capable of fully denying him. Creation marks the place of the beings in transcendence which does not manifest itself as a totality. Like Rosenzweig, Levinas resorts to the Kabbalah idea of tsimtsum, which understands creation as a withdrawal of God. This opens up the space for an independent being. The idea of tsimtsum has always, in all its forms, the concept of Gods self-limitation as its constant core. This interpretation points out that the separated being, though independent and atheistic, derives its possibility of existence from God. True religion, in Levinass view, consists in the non-totalitarian bond established between this autonomous subject and God: We propose to call religion the bond that is established between the same and the other without constituting a totality (TI 40). The separated being is both an autonomy and a self-justification or apology vis--vis the other. In the end, the concept of creation used by Levinas also makes possible a multitude of beings that are not reducible to a totality.

By its atopism and atheism, the separated being forms the factual resistance to the allencompassing power of the idea of totality. The totality as a closed system is broken up and an openness comes into existence, a Differenz that makes possible transcendence and alterity.

A process of identification

Separation is not only an act of the will set against totality. As a process of self-identification, it is the realization of an inner richness as well. Within this process, separation brings itself forth as a form of inner life or psychism. Psychism is already a way of being, resistance against the totality. (TI 54). Rosenzweig described man substantially as character and ethos.


Trained in Husserlian phenomenology, Levinas describes this process of self-identification as intentionality, enjoyment and representation, inhabitation, possession and labor, thought and work. The text on the Phenomenology of Eros (256-266) can offer us already some important insights. In the final analysis, Levinas discovers in Husserls transcendental reduction a totalistic structure, because intentionality, although striving to allow the world to be as it appears, imposes a subject-object structure upon it. In the end, Husserl remains struck in the nets of theoretical thought represented by the metaphor of light. Intentionality is believed to presuppose a certain adequation, which leads to the other to be reduced to an object: If Husserl sees in the cogito a subjectivity without any support outside of itself, this cogito constitutes the idea of infinity itself and gives it to itself as an object. (221) Levinas ignores the issue of inadequation in Husserl and designates phenomenology as the final outcome of totalistic Western philosophy. The erotic relation could well run counter to this because the desire for the other transcends itself and is actually itself made possible by alterity. The theoretical attitude is replaced with a social relation and the primacy of identity with the priority of the other. Eros renders any profanation impossible. This is why Levinas characterizes the erotic relation as a pure experience (260), as an experience that is, properly speaking, no longer an experience. At this point, Levinas surpassed phenomenology. The problematic of transcendental subjectivity is replaced with transgressive relationality. In doing so, Levinas makes an important shift with regard to Rosenzweig. This shift again has to do with the localization of nothingness or the there is. Indeed, in Totality and Infinity, the there is can not function as a starting point. By focusing on separation as a rupture, which, however, realizes itself as an inner process and not as a mere reaction to inhumanity, the negativity of nothingness is inserted into the dynamics of the subject. This goes together with the subject understood as Desire, which makes it possible to describe the erotic relations as non-theoretical 12

intentionality. Rosenzweig does not have this phenomenological limit-possibility at his disposal. Instead, he had to take recourse, in a rather artificial way, to the logic of origins of Cohen, in order to join nothingness and human-being together in one thought. In Levinas, however, the there is appears as the possibility of human-being.

3. Transition

Levinas drew inspiration from Rosenzweigs reaction to nothingness t o develop the concept of the there is. A scrupulous reading of Totality and Infinity, however, shows a fundamental point of difference: whereas nothingness in Rosenzweig is the starting point of thinking, this is no longer the case with the there is in Totality and Infinity. There, desire is the crucial element. And it is this very structure of desire, elaborated in discussion with the transcendental reduction of Husserl, which makes resistance to inhumanity possible. This last deepening of thought leads us to another line of influence which lends a more radical character to the previous ones. A paradoxical relation makes the resistance to the idea of totality possible. On the one hand, the concept of subjectivity is determined by the problem of inhumanity. On the other hand, it is also made possible through the relation with the infinite. How do these two statements relate to one another?