Origins of the Other: Emmanuel Levinas between Revelation and Ethics

By Kline, Daniel T. | Shofar, Winter 2008 | Go to article overview

Origins of the Other: Emmanuel Levinas between Revelation and Ethics


Kline, Daniel T., Shofar


Origins of the Other: Emmanuel Levinas Between Revelation and Ethics, by Samuel Moyn. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2005. 268 pp. $29.95.

Academic interest in the work of Emmanuel Levinas (1906-95), the Lithuanian-born philosopher who articulates "ethics as first philosophy," has reached a critical mass in the last several years. Samuel Moyn, Associate Professor of History at Columbia University, sounds a cautionary note to this wide-spread and often uncritical attitude by tracing the philosophical roots and historical progression of Levinas's thought, its sources and influences, up until Totality and Infinity in 1961.

Against the laudatory or even hagiographical interpretation of Levinas as the ethical philosopher par excellence, Moyn seeks to contextualize the development of Levinas's thought by showing how it emerges out of specific historical situations and philosophical controversies. Moyn's itinerary begins with Levinas's academic apprenticeship in the 1920s and early 1930s in the shadow of Husserl and particularly Heidegger, his philosophical development during the European conflict of World War II, and the consolidation of his thought in the post-war period. Central throughout Moyn's analysis is the legacy of Heidegger's turn toward National Socialism in 1933, and most crucially and perhaps controversially, Moyn argues that Levinas cannot be understood "except as a secularization of a transconfessional, but originally Protestant, theology of encounter with the divine" (p. 12). That protestant theology of encounter is found in the work of Jean Hering and Karl Barth, and Moyn argues that Levinas "retrojected his creation [of the other] into the foundations of his own particular faith" (p. 12). Levinas's own faith is, of course, Judaism.

Moyn's Origins of the Other follows a chronological outline along two parallel paths, one emphasizing philosphy and the other theology/ethics. Chapter One, "True Bergsonianism: Beginnings of a Philosopher," begins with a brief biographical sketch designed to correct the view of Levinas as a talmudic scholar reacting to antisemitic violence from the outset of his life. The point of Moyn's reconsideration of Levinas's cultural and educational origins is to insist that Levinas's tutn toward an intersubjective ethics of the other was an immediate product neither of his early religious education nor of his initial philosophical study. Chapter Two, "The Controversy over Intersubjectivity," details Heidegger's critique of Husserl and then analyzes two of Heidegger's own students, Karl Lowith and Hanna Arendt, and their different appropriations of their teacher's thought. Chapter Three, "Nazism and Crisis: The Interruption of a Trajectory," focuses upon Levinas's reaction to Heidegger's 1933 membership in the Nazi Party, for Heidegger's Nazism forced Levinas to seek a path different from Heidegger's."Totaliter Aliter: Revelation in Interwar Theology," Chapter 4, parallels the earlier chapters in that Moyn traces a path through the "First Quest" for the historical Jesus and early 20th century Protestant theology, primarily Rudolf Otto and Karl Barth, before turning to a fine, detailed re-reading of Franz Rosenzweig's 1935 Star of Redemption. The next section, Chapter 5, "Levinas's Discovery of the Other in the Making of French Existentialism," concentrates on Kierkegaard's reception in France and the impact of the Danish Christian existentialist's thought upon those in Levinas's circle. In Chapter 6, "The Ethical Turn: Philosophy and Judaism in the Cold War," Moyn attacks the idea that the Holocaust caused Levinas to consider the relation to the other as an ethical demand. Instead, Moyn claims that the Cold War, rather than World War II, is determinative for Levinas's evolution into an ethical philosopher.

Moyn is at his analytical best in detailing the intricate philosophical connections between Levinas and his influences, and he is at his argumentative best when he tackles detailed readings of Levinas's texts, but despite Moyn's fulsome accounting of Levinas's philosphical development, I am left with several reservations. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Origins of the Other: Emmanuel Levinas between Revelation and Ethics
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.