Emmanuel Levinas

Emmanuel Levinas

Infobox Philosopher
region = Western Philosophy
era = 20th-century philosophy
color = #B0C4DE

name = Emmanuel Levinas
birth = OldStyleDate|January 12|1906|December 30 flagicon|Russia|size=16px Kovno, Russian Empire
death = December 25, 1995 flagicon|FRA|size=16px Paris, France
school_tradition = Continental philosophy
main_interests = Existential phenomenology Talmudic studies· Ethics· Ontology
notable_ideas = "the Other"· "the Face"
influences = Husserl· Heidegger· Marcel· Wahl Rosenzweig· Buber· Monsieur Chouchani· Descartes· Sartre· Merleau-Ponty Durkheim
influenced = Blanchot· Derrida· Merleau-Ponty· Sartre· B-H Lévy· Ivan Illich· Ricoeur· Glucksmann· Finkielkraut

Emmanuel Levinas (IPA2|levi'na(s); born OldStyleDate|January 12|1906|December 30 in Kovno, Russia (now Kaunas, Lithuania); died December 25 1995 in Paris, France) was a French philosopher and Talmudic commentator.

Life and philosophy

Emanuelis Levinas (later adapted to French orthography as Emmanuel Levinas) received a traditional Jewish education in Lithuania. After WWII, he studied the Talmud under the enigmatic "Monsieur Chouchani," whose influence he acknowledged only late in his life.

Levinas began his philosophical studies at Strasbourg University in 1924, where he began his lifelong friendship with the French philosopher Maurice Blanchot. In 1928, he went to Freiburg University to study phenomenology under Edmund Husserl. At Freiburg he also met Martin Heidegger. Levinas became one of the very first French intellectuals to draw attention to Heidegger and Husserl, by translating Husserl's "Cartesian Meditations" and by drawing on their ideas in his own philosophy, in works such as his "The Theory of Intuition in Husserl’s Phenomenology", " _fr. De l'Existence à l'Existant", and " _fr. En Découvrant l’existence avec Husserl et Heidegger".

According to his "New York Times" [http://home.pacbell.net/atterton/levinas/Obituary.htm obituary] , Levinas came to regret his enthusiasm for Heidegger, because of the latter's Nazism. During a lecture on forgiveness, Levinas stated "One can forgive many Germans, but there are some Germans it is difficult to forgive. It is difficult to forgive Heidegger." [Levinas, Emmanuel. "Nine Talmudic Readings", trans. Annette Aronowicz. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994. p. 25] After earning his doctorate Levinas taught at a private Jewish High School in Paris, the École Normale Israélite Orientale, eventually becoming its director. He began teaching at the University of Poitiers in 1961, at the Nanterre campus of the University of Paris in 1967, and at the Sorbonne in 1973, from which he retired in 1979. He was also a Professor at the University of Fribourg in Switzerland.

In the 1950s, Levinas emerged from the circle of intellectuals surrounding Jean Wahl as a leading French thinker. His work is based on the ethics of the Other or, in Levinas' terms, on "ethics as first philosophy." For Levinas, the Other is not knowable and cannot be made into an object of the self, as is done by traditional metaphysics (which Levinas called "ontology"). Levinas prefers to think of philosophy as the "wisdom of love" rather than the love of wisdom (the literal Greek meaning of the word "philosophy"). By his lights, ethics becomes an entity independent of subjectivity to the point where ethical responsibility is integral to the subject; hence an ethics of responsibility precedes any "objective searching after truth."

Levinas derives the primacy of his ethics from the experience of the encounter with the Other. For Levinas, the irreducible relation, the epiphany, of the face-to-face, the encounter with another, is a privileged phenomenon in which the other person's proximity and distance are both strongly felt. "The Other precisely reveals himself in his alterity not in a shock negating the I, but as the primordial phenomenon of gentleness." ["Totality and Infinity", p.150] . At the same time, the revelation of the face makes a demand, this demand is before one can express, or know one's freedom, to affirm or deny. [ For recent reflections on the ethical-political imports of Levinas' tradition (and biography), along with the examination of the notion of the "face-to-face" in relation to "le visage", while taking into account the Levantine/Palestinian standpoint on conflict, see: Nader El-Bizri, "Uneasy Meditations Following Levinas," "Studia Phaenomelnologica", Vol. 6 (2006), pp. 293-315 ] One instantly recognizes the transcendence and heteronomy of the Other. Even murder fails as an attempt to take hold of this otherness.

In Levinas's later thought following "Totality and Infinity", he argued that our responsibility for the other was already rooted within our subjective constitution. It should be noted that the first line of the preface of this book is "everyone will readily agree that it is of the highest importance to know whether we are not duped by morality." [E. Levinas, Totality and Infinity: An Essay on Exteriority (Alphonso Lingis, transl. Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press), p. 21.] This can be seen most clearly in his later account of recurrence (chapter 4 in "Otherwise Than Being"), where Levinas maintained that subjectivity was formed in and through our subjected-ness to the other. In this way, his effort was not to move away from traditional attempts to locate the other within subjectivity (this he agrees with), so much as his view was that subjectivity was primordially ethical and not theoretical. That is to say, our responsibility for the other was not a derivative feature of our subjectivity; instead, obligation founds our subjective being-in-the-world by giving it a meaningful direction and orientation. Levinas's thesis "ethics as first philosophy", then, means that the traditional philosophical pursuit of knowledge is but a secondary feature of a more basic ethical duty to the other.

The elderly Levinas was a distinguished French public intellectual, whose books reportedly sold well. He had a major impact on the young Jacques Derrida, a fellow French Jew whose seminal "Writing and Difference" contains an essay, "Violence and Metaphysics," on Levinas. Derrida also delivered a eulogy at Levinas's funeral, later published as "Adieu à Emmanuel Levinas", an appreciation and exploration of Levinas's moral philosophy.

War experiences

Levinas became a naturalized French citizen in 1930. When France declared war on Germany, he was ordered to report for military duty. During the German invasion of France in 1940, his military unit was quickly surrounded and forced to surrender. Levinas spent the rest of World War II as a prisoner of war in a camp near Hannover in Germany. Levinas was assigned to a special barracks for Jewish prisoners, who were forbidden any forms of religious worship. Life in the camp was as difficult as might be expected, with Levinas often forced to chop wood and do other menial tasks. Other prisoners saw him frequently jotting in a notebook. These jottings became his book "De l'existence à l'existant" (1947) and a series of lectures published under the title "Le Temps et l'Autre" (1948).

Meanwhile, Maurice Blanchot helped Levinas' wife and daughter spend the war in a monastery, thus sparing them the Holocaust. Blanchot, at considerable personal risk, also saw to it that Levinas was able to keep in contact with his immediate family through letters and other messages. Other members of Levinas' family were not so fortunate; his mother-in-law was deported and never heard from again, while his father and brothers were murdered in Lithuania by the Nazi SS [http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/levinas/#LifCar] .

ee also

*Lithuanian Jews
*The Other
*Golden Rule
*Martin Buber

elected writings by Levinas

[http://home.pacbell.net/atterton/levinas/Primary.htm Bibliography] of English translations of Levinas's writings.
*1930. "The Theory of Intuition in Husserl’s Phenomenology".
*1947. "De l'existence à l'existant". ("Existence and Existents")
*1948. "Le Temps et l'Autre". ("Time and the Other")
*1949. "En Découvrant l’existence avec Husserl et Heidegger".
*1961. "Totalité et infini: essai sur l'extériorité". ("Totality and Infinity")
*1963 & 1976. "Difficult Freedom: Essays on Judaism".
*1972. "Humanisme de l'autre homme" ("Humanism of the Other")
*1974. "Autrement qu'être ou au-delà de l'essence". ("Otherwise than Being or Beyond Essence")
*1982. "Of God Who Comes to Mind"
*1991. "Entre Nous"


Further reading

* Roger Burggraeve, "The Wisdom of Love in the Service of Love: Emmanuel Levinas on Justice, Peace, and Human Rights", trans. Jeffrey Bloechl. Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 2002.
* Richard A. Cohen, "Ethics, Exegesis and Philosophy: Interpretation After Levinas". Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001.
* Richard A. Cohen, "Elevations: The Height of the Good in Rosenzweig and Levinas". Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1994.
* Simon Critchley, "Emmanuel Levinas: A Disparate Inventory," in "The Cambridge Companion to Levinas", ed. S. Critchley & R. Bernasconi. Cambridge & New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002.
* Marie-Anne Lescourt, "Emmanuel Levinas", 2nd edition. Flammarion, 2006. [in French]
* Theodore De Boer, "The Rationality of Transcendence: Studies in the Philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas". Amsterdam: J. C. Gieben, 1997.
* Emmanuel Levinas, "Ethics and Infinity: Conversations with Philippe Nemo", trans. R.A. Cohen. Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 1985.
* Emmanuel Levinas, "Signature," in "Difficult Freedom: Essays on Judaism", trans. Sean Hand. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1990 & 1997.
* Salomon Malka, "Emmanuel Levinas: His Life and Legacy", trans. M. Kigel and S.M. Embree. Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 2006.
* Jill Robbins, ed. "Is It Righteous to Be?: Interviews with Emmanuel Levinas". Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2001.
* Ira F. Stone, "Reading Levinas / Reading Talmud", Philadelphia, Jewish Publication Society, 1998.
* Samuel Moyn, "Origins of the Other: Emmanuel Levinas between Revelation and Ethics". Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2005.

External links

* Institute for Levinassian Studies. [http://www.levinas.eu/ Complete primary and secondary bibliography,] a search engine for Levinas' texts, and more
* Dutch Levinas Society and Dr. Joachim Duyndam, " [http://www.uvh.nl/levinas/ Primary Bibliography (1929-2007) and Secondary Bibliography (1990-2007).] " In cooperation with The University for Humanistics in Utrecht.
* [http://home.pacbell.net/atterton/levinas/Secondary.htm Bibliography] of the secondary literature in English.
* Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: " [http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/levinas/ Emmanuel Levinas,] " by Bettina Bergo.
* [ Books by a Levinas scholar]
* [http://home.pacbell.net/atterton/levinas/ The Emmanuel Levinas web page] by Peter Atterton. Includes a short biography.
* [http://home.pacbell.net/atterton/levinas/Obituary.htm "New York Times" obituary.]
* [http://web.ics.purdue.edu/~sjneely/levinas.htm North American Levinas Society: Resources, Calls for Papers, Announcements]
* [http://www.waste.org/~roadrunner/writing/Levinas/index.html Levinas and Anarchism.] Articles and Research Tools by Mitchell Cowen Verter
* Michael R. Michau. " [http://othervoices.org/2.3/mmichau/index.html On Escape,] " a review of Levinas' "De L'êvasion". " [http://www.othervoices.org Other Voices,] " January 2005.
* [http://www.levinas100.org/index-en.html A Century with Levinas : Celebration of Emmanuel Levinas Centennial · January 1-December 31, 2006]
* [http://www.geocities.com/nythamar/adeus.html Adeus: The Epiphany of the Other according to Levinas.]
* [http://espacethique.free.fr Espacethique: Emmanuel Levinas and the ethic of responsibility.]
* " [http://home.wxs.nl/~brouw724/Levinas.html Emmanuel Levinas] " on the [http://www.mysticism.nl Mystical Site.]
* [http://www.levinas.fr/default.asp Institut d'études Levinassiennes.]

NAME=Levinas, Emmanuel
SHORT DESCRIPTION=French philosopher
DATE OF BIRTH=12 January 1906
PLACE OF BIRTH=Kovno, Russian Empire
DATE OF DEATH=25 December 1995
PLACE OF DEATH=Paris, France

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