The Priority of the Other: Thinking and Living Beyond the Self


Contemporary psychology - as well as our own self-understanding - remains largely ego-centric in focus, with the self being seen as the primary source of meaning and value. According to Mark Freeman, this perspective is belied by much of our experience. Working from this basic premise, he proposes that we adopt a more "ex-centric" perspective, one that affirms the priority of the Other in shaping human experience. In doing so, he offers nothing less than a radical reorientation ...

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Contemporary psychology - as well as our own self-understanding - remains largely ego-centric in focus, with the self being seen as the primary source of meaning and value. According to Mark Freeman, this perspective is belied by much of our experience. Working from this basic premise, he proposes that we adopt a more "ex-centric" perspective, one that affirms the priority of the Other in shaping human experience. In doing so, he offers nothing less than a radical reorientation of our most basic ways of making sense of the human condition.

In speaking of the "Other," Freeman refers not only to other people, but also to those non-human "others" - for instance, nature, art, God - that take us beyond the ego and bring us closer to the world. In speaking of the Other's priority, he insists that there is much in life that "comes before us." By thinking and living the priority of the Other, we can therefore become better attuned to both the world beyond us and the world within.

At the heart of Freeman's perspective are two fundamental ideas. The first is that the Other is the primary source of meaning, inspiration, and existential nourishment. The second is that it is the primary source of our ethical energies, and that being responsive and responsible to the world beyond us is a defining feature of our humanity. There is a tragic side to Freeman's story, however. Enraptured though we may be by the Other, we frequently encounter it in a state of distraction and fail to receive the nourishment and inspiration it can provide. And responsive and responsible though we may be, it is perilously easy to retreat inward, to the needy ego. The challenge, therefore, is to break the spell of the "ordinary oblivion" that characterizes much of everyday life. The Priority of the Other can help us rise to the occasion.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Mark Freeman has a great triumph on his hands. His book addresses, in a stunningly clear and accessible fashion, perhaps the central problem of our day-the priority Western culture has given to the self. To his everlasting credit, he doesn't just describe this problem; he presents a profound and incredibly intriguing alternative that allows disciplines such as psychology to expand beyond their self-oriented ways and truly incorporate the priority of the other." —Brent D. Slife, Clinical Psychologist; Professor of Psychology, Brigham Young University

"This book matters. Mark Freeman, phenomenologist and psychologist, sounds a prophetic call on behalf of others, human and beyond, from wherever they may summon us. In dialogue with (Martin) Buber, (Simone) Weil, (Iris) Murdoch, and (Emmanuel) Lévinas, he refuses to choose between self-realization and devotion to the Other, but insists that living the priority of the other makes each of us more ourselves. This important work teaches us how to extricate ourselves from self-absorption and truly to attend." —Donna Orange, Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychology, New York University Post-Doctoral Program in Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis

"In this eloquent and richly laminated work, Mark Freeman invites us to explore a new and exciting approach to psychology. It is an outlook that asks us to acknowledge - and indeed privilege - the existence of others in our lives. In countering the longstanding egocentric tradition in psychology, Freeman illuminates ideas and actions that prioritize the other, including both persons and environment. His challenge involves nothing less than bringing ethics and spirituality into the forefront of our inquiry. This is indeed a daring work, captivating, and profound in potential." —Ken Gergen, Senior Research Professor of Psychology, Swarthmore College

"Lucidly written with an impressive and diverse bibliography, Mark Freeman's The Priority of the Other creates an important intersection between those inside and outside the field of psychology by gently moving psychology from its focus as an egocentric discipline to one that will prioritize the other. By drawing on the work of thinkers as diverse as Hannah Arendt, Paul Ricoeur, Elaine Scarry, Rudolf Otto, William James, and Emmanuel Levinas, among many others, Freeman's book will have wide disciplinary appeal but it will appeal especially to those who are interested in bridging the academic gap between theory and practice and who are generally concerned with the question, How should we live our lives?" —Claire Katz, Professor of Philosophy and Women's and Gender Studies, Texas A&M University

"Mark Freeman sets a frame for a poetics of the other with passion and deep conviction. The Priority of the Other has significance far beyond the reach of the discipline and theories of psychology. Mark Freeman intriguingly presents the priority of the other as a pivotal point for moving beyond the duality and tension between self and other to reach the notion of living out of the 'spiritual self' (p. 191). Mark Freeman's work has profound significance beyond a further contribution to the critique of the epoch of the ego. The power of The Priority of the Other is that it presents a positive and provocative summons to awaken to the other." —Dr. Samuel Mahaffy

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780199759309
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 12/18/2013
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 9.40 (w) x 6.40 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Mark Freeman is Professor and Chair of the Department of Psychology at the College of the Holy Cross, where he also serves as Distinguished Professor of Ethics and Society. He is the author of Rewriting the Self: History, Memory, Narrative (Routledge, 1993); Finding the Muse: A Sociopsychological Inquiry into the Conditions of Artistic Creativity (Cambridge, 1994); Hindsight: The Promise and Peril of Looking Backward (Oxford, 2010); and numerous articles on issues ranging from memory and identity to the psychology of art and religion. Winner of the 2010 Theodore R. Sarbin Award in the Society for Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology, he is also a Fellow in the American Psychological Association and serves as editor for the Oxford University Press series "Explorations in Narrative Psychology."

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Table of Contents

Introduction. Thinking and Being Otherwise

Chapter One. From Self to Other

Chapter Two. Oblivion and Attention

Chapter Three. For the Other

Chapter Four. Beyond the Human

Chapter Five. The Possibility of Transcendence

Chapter Six. Living Ex-Centrically


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