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Middle English, from Old English ōther; akin to Old High German andar other, Sanskrit antara


  • 1a : being the one (as of two or more) remaining or not included <held on with one hand and waved with the other one>
b : being the one or ones distinct from that or those first mentioned or implied <taller than the other boys>
c : second <every other day>
  • 2: not the same : different <any other color would have been better> <something other than it seems to be>
  • 3: additional <sold in the United States and 14 other countries>
  • 4a : recently past <the other evening>
b : former <in other times>
  • 5: disturbingly or threateningly different : alien, exotic


The Other or Constitutive Other (also the verb othering) is a key concept in continental philosophy; it opposes the Same. The Other refers, or attempts to refer, to that which is Other than the initial concept being considered. The Constitutive Other often denotes a person Other than one’s self; hence, the Other is identified as “different”; thus the spelling often is capitalised.

The idea of the Other

A person's definition of the 'Other' is part of what defines or even constitutes the self (see self (psychology), self (philosophy), and self-concept) and other phenomena and cultural units. It has been used in social science to understand the processes by which societies and groups exclude 'Others' whom they want to subordinate or who do not fit into their society. The concept of 'otherness' is also integral to the comprehending of a person, as people construct roles for themselves in relation to an 'other' as part of a process of reaction that is not necessarily related to stigmatization or condemnation. Othering is imperative to national identities, where practices of admittance and segregation can form and sustain boundaries and national character. Othering helps distinguish between home and away, the uncertain or certain. It often involves the demonization and dehumanization of groups, which further justifies attempts to civilize and exploit these 'inferior' others.

History of the idea

The concept that the self requires the Other to define itself is an old one and has been expressed by many writers:

The German philosopher Hegel was among the first to introduce the idea of the other as constituent in self-consciousness. He wrote of pre-selfconscious Man: "Each consciousness pursues the death of the other", meaning that in seeing a separateness between you and another, a feeling of alienation is created, which you try to resolve by synthesis. The resolution is depicted in Hegel's famous parable of the master slave dialectic. For a direct antecedent, see Fichte.

Husserl used the idea as a basis for intersubjectivity. Sartre also made use of such a dialectic in Being and Nothingness, when describing how the world is altered at the appearance of another person, how the world now appears to orient itself around this other person. At the level Sartre presented it, however, it was without any life-threatening need for resolution, but as a feeling or phenomenon and not as a radical threat. Simone De Beauvoir made use of otherness — in similar fashion to Sartre — in The Second Sex. In fact, De Beauvoir refers to Hegel's master-slave dialectic as analogous, in many respects, to the relationship of man and woman.

The French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan and the Lithuanian-French philosopher Emmanuel Lévinas were instrumental in coining contemporary usage of "the Other," as radically other. Lacan articulated the Other with the symbolic order and language. Levinas connected it with the scriptural and traditional God, in The Infinite Other.

Ethically, for Levinas, the "Other" is superior or prior to the self; the mere presence of the Other makes demands before one can respond by helping them or ignoring them. This idea and that of the face-to-face encounter were re-written later, taking on Derrida's points made about the impossibility of a pure presence of the Other (the Other could be other than this pure alterity first encountered), and so issues of language and representation arose. This "re-write" was accomplished in part with Levinas' analysis of the distinction between "the saying and the said" but still maintaining a priority of ethics over metaphysics.

Levinas talks of the Other in terms of insomnia and wakefulness. It is an ecstasy, or exteriority toward the Other that forever remains beyond any attempt at full capture, this otherness is interminable (or infinite); even in murdering another, the otherness remains, it has not been negated or controlled. This "infiniteness" of the Other will allow Levinas to derive other aspects of philosophy and science as secondary to this ethic. Levinas writes:

The others that obsess me in the other do not affect me as examples of the same genus united with my neighbor by resemblance or common nature, individuations of the human race, or chips off the old block... The others concern me from the first. Here fraternity precedes the commonness of a genus. My relationship with the Other as neighbor gives meaning to my relations with all the others.

The "Other", as a general term in philosophy, can also be used to mean the unconscious, silence, insanity, the other of language (i.e., what it refers to and what is unsaid), etc.

There may also arise a tendency towards relativism if the Other, as pure alterity, leads to a notion that ignores the commonality of truth. Likewise, issues may arise around non-ethical uses of the term, and related terms, that reinforce divisions.

The Other in gender studies

Simone De Beauvoir changed the Hegelian notion of the Other, for use in her description of male-dominated culture. According to her, it treats woman as the Other in relation to man. The Other has thus become an important concept for studies of the sex-gender system. Michael Warner argues that:

the modern system of sex and gender would not be possible without a disposition to interpret the difference between genders as the difference between self and Other ... having a sexual object of the opposite gender is taken to be the normal and paradigmatic form of an interest in the Other or, more generally, others.

Thus, according to Warner, Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalysis hold the heterosexist view that if one is attracted to people of the same gender as one's self, one fails to distinguish self and other, identification and desire. This is a "regressive" or an "arrested" function. He further argues that heteronormativity covers its own narcissistic investments by projecting or displacing them on queerness.

De Beauvoir calls the Other the minority, the least favored one and often a woman, when compared to a man, "for a man represents both the positive and the neutral, as indicated by the common use of man to designate human beings in general; whereas woman represents only the negative, defined by limiting criteria, without reciprocity". Betty Friedan supported this thought when she interviewed women and the majority of them identified themselves in their role in the private sphere, rather than addressing their own personal achievements. They automatically identified as the Other without knowing. Although the Other may be influenced by a socially constructed society, one can argue that society has the power to change this creation (Haslanger).

In an effort to dismantle the notion of the Other, Cheshire Calhoun proposed a deconstruction of the word "woman" from a subordinate association and to reconstruct it by proving women do not need to be rationalized by male dominance.[2] This would contribute to the idea of the Other and minimize the hierarchal connotation this word implies.

Edward Said applied the feminist notion of the Other to colonized peoples (specifically, in Said's work, Middle Easterners and Arabs in general and Palestinians in particular).

Sarojini Sahoo, an Indian feminist writer, agrees with De Beauvoir that women can only free themselves by “thinking, taking action, working, creating, on the same terms as men; instead of seeking to disparage them, she declares herself their equal." She disagrees, however, that though women have the same status to men as human beings, they have their own identity and they are different from men. They are "others" in real definition, but this is not in context with Hegelian definition of “others”. It is not always due to man’s "active" and "subjective" demands. They are the others, unknowingly accepting the subjugation as a part of "subjectivity".

Some Other quotations

  • The poet Arthur Rimbaud may be the earliest to express the idea: "Je est un autre" [I is another].
  • Søren Kierkegaard argued that others, the crowd, is "untruth", and stressed the importance of the individual.
  • Friedrich Nietzsche, in The Gay Science, phrased it thus: "You are always a different person."
  • Ferdinand de Saussure described language as, in Calvin Thomas' words, a "differential system without positive terms".
  • Jacques Lacan argued that ego-formation occurs through mirror-stage misrecognition, and his theories were applied to politics by Althusser. As the later Lacan said: "The I is always in the field of the Other."
  • Emmanuel Levinas, on the other hand, saw apprehension of the other as the basis for ethics, and as a limit on ontology.
  • Jean-Paul Sartre's character Garcin, in the play Huis clos (No Exit), states that "Hell is others," or, alternatively, "Hell is other people." ("L'enfer, c'est les Autres.")


  • Levinas, Emmanuel (1974). Autrement qu'être ou au-delà de l'essence. (Otherwise than Being or Beyond Essence).
  • Levinas, Emmanuel (1972). Humanism de l'autre homme. Fata Morgana.
  • Lacan, Jacques (1966). Ecrits. London: Tavistock, 1977.
  • Lacan, Jacques (1964). The Four Fondamental Concepts of Psycho-analysis. London: Hogarth Press, 1977.
  • Foucault, Michel (1990). The History of Sexuality vol. 1: An Introduction. Trans. Robert Hurley. New York: Vintage.
  • Derrida, Jacques (1973). Speech and Phenomena and Other Essays on Husserl's Theory of Signs. Trans. David B. Allison. Evanston: Ill.: Northwestern University Press.
  • Kristeva, Julia (1982). Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection. Trans. Leon S. Roudiez. New York: Columbia University Press.
  • Butler, Judith (1990). Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. New York: Routledge.
  • Butler, Judith (1993). Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of "Sex". New York: Routledge.
  • Zuckermann, Ghil‘ad (2006), "'Etymythological Othering' and the Power of 'Lexical Engineering' in Judaism, Islam and Christianity. A Socio-Philo(sopho)logical Perspective", Explorations in the Sociology of Language and Religion, edited by Tope Omoniyi and Joshua A. Fishman, Amsterdam: John Benjamins, pp. 237–258.


  • Thomas, Calvin, ed. (2000). "Introduction: Identification, Appropriation, Proliferation", Straight with a Twist: Queer Theory and the Subject of Heterosexuality. University of Illinois Press. ISBN 0-252-06813-0.
  • Cahoone, Lawrence (1996). From Modernism to Postmodernism: An Anthology. Cambridge, Mass.: Blackwell.
  • Colwill, Elizabeth. (2005). Reader—Wmnst 590: Feminist Thought. KB Books.
  • Haslanger, Sally. Feminism and Metaphysics: Unmasking Hidden Ontologies. [1]. 11/28/2005.
  • McCann, Carole. Kim, Seung-Kyung. (2003). Feminist Theory Reader: Local and Global Perspectives. Routledge. New York, NY.
  • Rimbaud, Arthur (1966). "Letter to Georges Izambard", Complete Works and Selected Letters. Trans. Wallace Fowlie. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Nietzsche, Friedrich (1974). The Gay Science. Trans. Walter Kaufmann. New York: Vintage.
  • Saussure, Ferdinand de (1986). Course in General Linguistics. Eds. Charles Bally and Albert Sechehaye. Trans. Roy Harris. La Salle, Ill.: Open Court.
  • Lacan, Jacques (1977). Écrits: A Selection. Trans. Alan Sheridan. New York: Norton.
  • Althusser, Louis (1973). Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays. Trans. Ben Brewster. New York: Monthly Review Press.
  • Warner, Michael (). "Homo-Narcissism; or, Heterosexuality", Engendering Men, p. 191. Eds. Boone and Cadden.
  • Tuttle, Howard (1996). The Crowd is Untruth, Peter Lang Publishing, ISBN 0-8204-2866-3


  1. "Otherwise than Being", p.159
  2. " McCann, 339
  3. " "http://sarojinisahoo.blogspot.com"

External links