Postmodern Theology and Jean-Luc Marion: From ‘ego cogito’ to ‘ego amans’

Postmodern Theology and Jean-Luc Marion: From ‘ego cogito’ to ‘ego amans’ June 16, 2009

Previous posts:

Postmodern Theology and Jean-Luc Marion: Being and Giveness

Postmodern Theology and Jean-Luc Marion (a brief opening move)

Marion’s critique of being is not only rooted in the history of giveness (which I described in the previous post in this series). It is also attached to his own critique of modernity’s neglect of the person as a lover. He traces this neglect back to Descartes’ cogito, the blue print for the modern person. This critique is crucial for understanding Marion’s thought in general (he began as a Cartesian scholar and translator) and his critique of being (treated in the previous post) which leads to his postmodern stance to theology.

In The Erotic Phenomenon (2007), Marion notes that in the original Latin of Descartes’ Meditations the ego is described excluding love.  The first translator of Descartes from Latin into French, Duc de Luynes, added, “which loves, which hates” to the opening of Descartes’ Third Meditation. To see this for yourself, follow this link where you can compare each translation with the other.

Marion favors this revision (albeit unintended by Descartes) and exhorts us to take up Duc de Luynes’ addition to the ego and see ourselves “as the cogitans that thinks insofar as it first loves, in short as the lover (ego amans)… substituting for the ego cogito, which does not love.” Marion goes on to write, “It will be necessary, then, to take up the Meditationes from the starting point of the fact that I love even before being because I am not, except insofar as I experience love, and experience it as a logic.”

In short, Marion challenges the ontological structure of the widely accepted, and distinctly modern, cogito and argues that we do not think and therefore exist. We are given prior to being. We give before we think. We love first.

This philosophical move from ego cogito to ego amans that he makes in The Erotic Phenomenon follows his earlier, theological point about God without Being that we will return to in my next post. In short, it is this: Once we abandon the inferior category of being we can locate God within the realm of love as an iconic gift.

Making this point by distinguishing between Marion’s “icon” and “idol” will be next. Unless, of course, you see this as premature.

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