Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Lee Braver, Ph.D.

Co-Major Professor

Michael DeJonge, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Cass Fisher, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Michael Morris, Ph.D.


ontology, dialogue, intersubjectivity, anthropology, revelation, responsibility


This dissertation offers an account of the different ways in which putatively idealist and transcendental models of sociality, which grounded the subject’s relation to other human beings in the subject’s own cognition, were rejected and replaced. Scrapping this account led to a variety of models of sociality which departed from the subject as the ground of sociality, positing grounds outside of the subject. Hans-Georg Gadamer, Emmanuel Levinas, Franz Rosenzweig, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer represent alternative positions along a spectrum of models of sociality which reject the idealist concept of sociality.

The central argument of this dissertation claims that the responses to idealism and transcendental models of sociality ultimately find fault with an inadequate ontology, one which grounds sociality (as well as all of reality) in the cognition of the subject. The ontology of the transcendental model locates the subject as initially unconnected to other subjects such that the first move in relating them together must be epistemological. The social relation is grounded in the subject’s cognitive grasp. Each of the thinkers I examine identifies this as the key problem with idealism; however, their solutions to this problem differ. The differing solutions of Gadamer, Levinas, Rosenzweig, and Bonhoeffer can be identified as occupying different representative positions along a continuum, call it the “scale of social grounding.” What I offer here is a topography of responses to the idealist model of sociality.

The ontological ground of sociality, instead of being the subject, is posited as situation of dialogue (Gadamer), the face of the other (Levinas), or divine revelation (Rosenzweig and Bonhoeffer). In each of these alternative models, we see that the subject is conditioned rather than autonomous, that sociality is enacted through temporality and language, and that sociality is principally a normative relation rather than an epistemological one. The story that emerges from my analysis, then, is a richer topography of responses to idealism than has hitherto been mapped out. The responses, represented by Gadamer, Levinas, Rosenzweig, and Bonhoeffer each provide an alternative ontology on which any adequate model of sociality must rest.

While my account of the spectrum of ontological responses to idealist sociality does not claim to be exhaustive, it does give a better topography of the field of responses than has hitherto been offered in studies of models of sociality in the 20th century. Finally, this dissertation shows the centrality of providing an alternative ontology to idealism in these projects. Far from rejecting ontology wholesale or merely offering moral revisions to the existing social order, each of the figures I examine in this study radically revise the ground of sociality by articulating a fresh ontological vision which can support social life.