The Paradox of Power and Weakness

Levinas and an Alternative Paradigm for Psychology

By George Kunz

Subjects: Ethics
Series: SUNY series, Alternatives in Psychology
Paperback : 9780791438909, 210 pages, July 1998
Hardcover : 9780791438893, 210 pages, July 1998

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Table of contents



Part I: Psychology's Anomaly and an Alternative Paradigm

Chapter One: Radical Altruism: An Anomaly to Modern Psychology

A real distinction between altruism and self-interest

Psychology's contribution to the cynicism of modern ideologies

Psychology: A psukhology as well as an egology

Reflection on social problems shows the paradoxical

Statement of the paradox

The paradox of the power of weakness

Quick survey of ethical theories

The paradox of the weakness of power

The Itinerary

Chapter Two: An Alternative Paradigm: The Philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas

The psukhe (breath, spirit, soul) is the-Other-in-me

Six fundamental distinctions:

Totality and infinity

Need and desire

Willful activity and radical passivity

Self-initiated freedom and invested freedom

Social equality and ethical inequality

The said and saying

Part II: The Egology of Power and Weakness

Chapter Three: Power and the Power of Power

Phenomenological method: disclosing and declaring

Power and the power of power at three psychological levels

Cognitive power: intelligence for understanding

Behavioral power: exerted effort for success

Affective Power: satisfaction for happiness

How power empowers power


Chapter Four: Weakness and the Weakness of Weakness

Phenomenological method: exposing and accusing

Weakness and the weakness of weakness at three levels

Cognitive weakness: ignorance for bad choices

Behavioral weakness: lazy and cowardly for failure

Affective weakness: dissatisfaction for suffering

How weakness weakens its weakness


Part III: The Psukhology of the Paradoxical

Chapter Five: The Weakness of Power

Phenomenological method: being exposed and confessing

The weakness of power

The Gyges Complex: self-righteous and obsessive

The Zeus Complex: manipulative and compulsive

The Narcissus Complex: self-indulgent and addictive

How power weakens power


Chapter Six: The Power of Weakness

Phenomenological method: listening to, being touched, and responding

The power of weakness

Simplicity: the gift of self-skepticism for attentive understanding

Humility: the gift of self-substitution for obedient service

Patience: the gift of self-sacrifice for compassion

The origin and direction of the self

How the weakness of the Other empowers the self and empowers the Other


Part IV: The Paradox of Community

Interlude: Social justice Based on Radical Altruism

The appeal to hagiology: Edith Wyschogrod

The cynicism of ideology: Peter Sloterdijk

The limits to altruism: Roger Burggraeve

Chapter Seven: The Power of Community

Phenomenological method: community communicates and assigns responsibilities

Communities understood by using the three levels of the psukhe: cognition, behavior, affect

Educational community

Political community

Commercial community

The power of the Common Good in schools, governments, and businesses





Offers an alternative paradigm for psychology, one that reflects Levinas's criticism of a self-centered notion of identity. Reveals the secret of an "authentic" altruism through a phenomenology of both power and weakness, and of the paradoxes of the weakness of power and the power of weakness.


The metaethical philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas challenges Western egocentrism by describing the self as egoic yet nevertheless ethically called to transcend its own obsessions, compulsions, and addictions, and to respect and serve others. While power is powerful and weakness is weak, power can sabotage itself, and the weakness of others has power to command our attention and service. Levinas makes distinctions that offer psychology the basis for an alternative paradigm open to paradox. In The Paradox of Power and Weakness, George Kunz shows how the analyses of hagiography, cynicism, and limits on altruistic behavior by radical altruism contribute to this psychology of ethical responsibility for social sciences.

George Kunz is Associate Professor of Psychology at Seattle University.


"The Paradox of Power and Weakness is an important piece of work. Kunz writes a text accessible to a wide audience: to the ethical philosopher, to the public at large, to academics in many disciplines. For myself, I will enjoy reading it many times." — Ron Shaffer, Western Washington University

"Kunz has straightforwardly and clearly exposed what a psychology would be like based in Levinasian thought. Although some psychologists have criticized the egology which is the center of modern psychology, few have a well-grounded philosophy upon which to found an alternative. Kunz has deftly connected the philosophy and the psychology." — David R. Harrington, Sheldon Jackson College

"This book is interesting to read and extremely accessible. Kunz's use of examples taken from everyday life is extremely effective. He has adapted Levinas's proto-ethics so that it can more concretely address the day-to-day issues of living ethically. He has also demonstrated that one can think of Levinas's thought in a psychological framework—a possibility that many have argued might be fruitful but few have actually attempted to articulate. Kunz's elaboration of humility and simplicity as core characteristics of the human psyche offers a revolutionary critique of contemporary theories of human personality both in psychology and philosophy." — James Hatley, Salisbury State University