The Life and Works of Emmanuel Levinas

The Life and Works of Emmanuel Levinas

June 26, 2021 Off By Felso

Levinas was born in Lithuania in 1906 to a Jewish family, and was educated in a traditional synagogue as a child. His family emigrated to France after the 1917 revolution. Levinas, who started to study philosophy at the University of Strasbourg in 1924, became acquainted with Husserl’s phenomenology in 1927, when phenomenology was not yet known in France.

Between 1928-29 he went to the University of Freibourg to learn Husserl’s phenomenology. There he encountered not only Husserl, but also Heidegger, who had just published Being and Time. Levinas published his first book, Vision Theory in Husserl’s Phenomenology, in France in 1930. French philosophy recognized phenomenology with this work. Shortly thereafter, Levinas published two short essays that went beyond efforts to explain and interpret: Some Reflections on the Philosophy of Hitlerism (1934) and On Escape (1935). These essays were written in an atmosphere where Hitler came to power in Germany and anti-Semitism was strengthening in Europe. In the first, Levinas questions what might have paved the way for racist fascism in European culture, and in the second, he poses and discusses the question of “transcendance” in a new way, often breaking it out of the context of mysticism to which it belongs.

During the Second World War, Levinas was held as a prisoner in a military labor camp (Stalag). His wife and daughter hid in France during the war with the help of his friend Maurice Blanchot. All but their families are among the six million Jews killed in the camps. Levinas’ philosophical thought begins with a foreknowledge of the coming disaster and gives its most important products within the philosophical questioning caused by the possibility of a genocide in the heart of Europe. Time and Other (1947), Totality and Infinity (1961), and Other than Being or Beyond Essence (1974) are the most important touchstones of Levinas’ philosophy.

After receiving his doctorate, Levinas worked as a teacher and administrator at a private high school in Paris. He worked as a lecturer at the University of Poitier in 1961 and at the University of Paris (Nanterre and Sorbonne) since 1971. Paul Ricoeur enabled him to enter the university. In addition to philosophy, Levinas also commented on the Talmud in the synagogue, and his non-philosophical writings strongly reflect his interest in the Talmudic tradition. In his interviews, he mentions that the person who instilled this interest in him was a person named Monsieur Chouchani, who suddenly appeared before him after the war. Levinas retired from the University of Paris I (Sorbonne) in 1979 and died in 1995.

Prepared by: Sociologist Ömer YILDIRIM
Source: Omer YILDIRIM’s Personal Lecture Notes. Atatürk University Sociology Department 1st Year “Introduction to Philosophy” and 2nd, 3rd, 4th Grade “History of Philosophy” Lecture Notes (Ömer YILDIRIM); Open Education Philosophy Textbook