Mystery of the Other, and its reduction in Rahner and Levinas
Karl Rahner, responding to the problems raised by Kant's critical philosophy, sought to present a Thomistic metaphysics of realism in a modern thought-form through a reduction of the interrogative thrust of the intellect to its possibility conditions, and so, like Marechal before him, attain an absolute affirmation of Being. Rahner's transcendental system, however, would seem to have been overtaken by a more existential stress in phenomenological thinking. Emmanuel Levinas, with his thought of the Other and his attempt at an excendence from Being, would seem at first glance to sit uncomfortably alongside Rahner's system, yet, a closer reading of both unearths a remarkable convergence in their thinking. The deeper phenomenological reduction which Levinas undertakes to reveal the inter-subjective context of consciousness helps to humanise Rahner's approach. This thesis attempts a fruitful confrontation of both thinkers by, firstly, indicating the tension between Rahner's own philosophical propaedeutic and his theological writings, particularly on grace, mystery and the love of God and neighbour, where he affirms that human existence is ultimately reductio in mysterium and that human fulfilment is to be found in a personal relationship with a human Other. A second purpose is to show how these same theological themes can be developed from within Levinas' own thought, and how his own philosophy can provide a worthwhile context for Christian theology. The thesis unfolds by considering the various methods - metaphysical, transcendental and phenomenological - which surround both thinkers (Chapter 1) and then proceeds to outline their various philosophical influences (Chapter 2). Since the notion of Being as self-presence is fundamental in Rahner, and since Levinas refuses a philosophy of presence, Chapter 3 questions the privilege of presence. This will lead, in its turn, to a rethinking of the notion of subjectivity: the subject is not to be consider as presence-to-self but as a relationship with the Other (Chapter 4). This relationship is experienced in Desire (Chapter 5) and in the responsibility experienced before the face of the Other (Chapter 6). The relation between ethics (the good) and Being is pursued in chapter 7. Finally, the notion of mystery is indicated as the theme which inspires the work of both Rahner and Levinas (Chapter 8). Rahner's unmastered mystery will become Levinas' incomprehensible infinity in the presence of which the subject is called to response and responsibility.