Emmanuel Levinas: Ethics, Justice, and the Human beyond Being

Emmanuel Levinas: Ethics, Justice, and the Human beyond Being

Emmanuel Levinas: Ethics, Justice, and the Human beyond Being

Emmanuel Levinas: Ethics, Justice, and the Human beyond Being

Synopsis

This book explores Levinas's rethinking of the meaning of ethics, justice and the human from a position that affirms but goes beyond the anti-humanist philosophy of the twentieth century.

Excerpt

… humanity is, perhaps, the putting in question of the good
conscience of being which perseveres in being. (DVI 11)

In Otherwise than Being, Levinas writes:

Modern antihumanism, which denies the primacy that the human
person, free and for itself, would have for the signification of
being, is true over and beyond the reasons it gives itself. It clears
a place for subjectivity positing itself in abnegation, in sacrifice,
in a substitution which precedes the will. (OTB 127/AE 163)

While accepting an anti-humanist position which questions the primacy of free will and the security of an attachment to a pregiven universal reason, Levinas adds that humanism does not have to be denounced because of the failure of freedom, but because it is “not sufficiently human” (OTB 128/AE 164). It is impossible to overlook a reference to Heidegger in these lines, who, in his 1947 Letter on Humanism, claimed that humanism must be rejected for not thinking the humanitas of the human high enough (UH 19/LH 210). For Heidegger, the failure to understand the signification of humanitas arises from the unavoidable forgetting of being. To think out of an affirmative relation to this forgetting is to take on the task of a more originary thinking of the truth of being which Heidegger aligns with “originary ethics” (UH 41/LH 235).

The relation between Levinas’ philosophy and this originary ethics is complex. There is little doubt that Heidegger’s fundamental ontology provides the point of departure for Levinas. As the quote above suggests, the critique of the idealist conception of subjectivity in ‘antihumanist’ philosophy clears a place for his own thinking. For Levinas . . .

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