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Negative Certainties

Translated by Stephen E. Lewis
Now in paperback, Jean-Luc Marion's groundbreaking philosophy of human uncertainty.

In Negative Certainties, renowned philosopher Jean-Luc Marion challenges some of the most fundamental assumptions we have developed about knowledge: that it is categorical, predicative, and positive. Following Descartes, Kant, and Heidegger, he looks toward our finitude and the limits of our reason. He asks an astonishingly simple—but profoundly provocative—question in order to open up an entirely new way of thinking about knowledge: Isn’t our uncertainty, our finitude, and rational limitations, one of the few things we can be certain about?

Marion shows how the assumption of knowledge as positive demands a reductive epistemology that disregards immeasurable or disorderly phenomena. He shows that we have experiences every day that have no identifiable causes or predictable reasons and that these constitute a very real knowledge—a knowledge of the limits of what can be known. Establishing this “negative certainty,” Marion applies it to four aporias, or issues of certain uncertainty: the definition of man; the nature of God; the unconditionality of the gift; and the unpredictability of events. Translated for the first time into English, Negative Certainties is an invigorating work of epistemological inquiry that will take a central place in Marion’s oeuvre. 


“Crowned by the Académie Française . . . the philosopher in a bow tie, Jean-Luc Marion, loosens our Borromean knots: the human enigma, the mystery of God, and the unknown of birth as well as death, are so many inexplicable events. Negative Certainties, his latest book, questions the very possibility of these impossibilities.”

Le Monde, on the French edition

“Marion is one of today’s most important philosophers. . . . If certain knowledge is impossible, must we condemn ourselves to hazardous understandings and skepticism? For Marion, there is a third way, through negative certainty.” 

Libération, on the French edition

Table of Contents

Translator’s Acknowledgments


§ 1 Attempt to Introduce the Concept of Negative Certainties into Philosophy

I The Undefinable, or the Face of Man

§ 2 “What Is Man?”
§ 3 “Ipse mihi magna quaestio
§ 4 What It Costs to Know (Oneself)
§ 5 Proscription
§ 6 The Fund of Incomprehensibility
§ 7 The Indefinite and the Unstable

II The Impossible, or What Is Proper to God

§ 8 The Impossible Phenomenon
§ 9 The Irreducible
§ 10 Possibility without Conditions
§ 11 The (Im)possible: From Contradiction to Event
§ 12 The (Im)possible from My Point of View
§ 13 The (Im)possible from God’s Point of View

III The Unconditioned, or the Strength of the Gift

§ 14 The Contradictions of the Gift
§ 15 The Terms of Exchange
§ 16 Reducing the Gift to Givenness
§ 17 Without the Principle of Identity
§ 18 Without the Principle of Sufficient Reason

IV The Unconditioned and the Variations of the Gift

§ 19 Sacrifice According to the Terms of Exchange
§ 20 Regiving, Beginning from the Recipient
§ 21 The Confirmation of Abraham
§ 22 Forgiveness According to the Terms of Exchange
§ 23 Regiving, Beginning from the Giver
§ 24 The Return of the Prodigal Son

V The Unforeseeable, or the Event

§ 25 What the Object Excludes
§ 26 The Condition of the Object
§ 27 Concerning the Distinction of Phenomena into Objects and Events
§ 28 Without Cause
§ 29 The Original Unknown
§ 30 The Double Interpretation


§ 31 In Praise of the Paradox

Bibliographical Note

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