Even though the female thinker Diotima gave birth to the philosophical eros, most of Western philosophy constitutes a male body of thought. That is, men have written the majority of what we consider to be the traditional philosophical canon using phallocentric metaphors. Therefore, I will not attempt to mask this inherent sexism by following the common practice of alternating genders or using “he or she” to refer to the self. Because the modern philosophy has typically constructed the subject as male, I will describe it as a “he.”
Conversely, Heidegger deliberately avoids using gendered pronouns when discussing Dasein. Because “Dasein” names the historical space for Being’s unconcealment rather than a human entity, I will refer to Dasein as “it.”
Levinas founds his opposition to totalizing philosophy upon the bedrock of gendered distinctions. He states, “The difference between the sexes is a formal structure, but one that carves up reality in another sense and conditions the very possibility of reality as multiple, against the unity of being proclaimed by Parmenides.” Therefore, I will attempt to describe the Other using masculine or feminine pronouns to show when Levinas refers to masculine or feminine aspect of the Other’s alterity.
I will have to change voices dramatically when discussing the being that relates to this Other. In Time and the Other, Levinas tries to think through the relationships between existing and existents. He explains, “One can not ignore this distinction — which I have already used — between Sein and Seiendes, Being and beings, but which for reasons of euphony I prefer to render as existing and existent.” I would argue that, within Time and the Other, Levinas’ voice stays within Heidegger’s ontological register. Therefore, even though Levinas calls the existent’s production of itself a “virile,” implicitly masculine, event, I will refer to this “existent” or “self” or “ego” as an “it.” Starting with his article “Is Ontology Fundamental,” Levinas begins to develop a metaphysical voice which will accurately convey the relationship with the transcendent Other. He explains in Totality and Infinity, “The face to face is established starting with a point separated from exteriority so radically that it maintains itself of itself, is me.” That is, that the personal relationship with the Other does not involve any anonymous subject, but rather starts from me. Therefore, I will discuss “Is Ontology Fundamental?” and Totality and Infinity in the first person, using the third person only when an aspect of me such as the will, the part of me that exerts itself in the impersonal public world.