Who is Emmanuel Levinas?June 25, 2021
Emmanuel LevinEmmanuel Levinas (12 January 1906, Kovno – 25 December 1995) is a French philosopher of Lithuanian Jewish origin, known for his work on Jewish philosophy, existentialism, ethics and ontology.
Emmanuel Levinas was born in 1906 in Kovno, which was then within the borders of the Russian Empire and is now a city in Lithuania.
Completing his secondary education in Lithuania and Russia, Levinas studied philosophy in Strasbourg, France between 1923-30. In 1928-29 he attended the lectures of Husserl and Heidegger in Friborg, Germany. Levinas, who became a French citizen in 1930, worked as a lecturer at the universities of Poitiers, Paris-Nanterre and Sorbonne, respectively.
In the tradition of Western philosophy, thinking has generally consisted of a process of identification. It is a movement where the same goes to the other and returns from him to himself. In this movement, thought reduces the shock of encountering the Other through concepts, principles, representations, and reduces or resembles it to itself.
He finds in it what he has already put into it, that the same’s encountering the other only through its own terms and not opening these terms to radical questioning characterizes the movement of the same.
But can’t philosophy be done by entering a different movement instead of this one? Levinas answers this question in the affirmative. Philosophy can also be a hospitable thought to others. Philosophy, which is hospitable to the other, is open to thinking about the meaning of the world from the encounter with the other, from the other’s self-expression.
Levinas addressed this philosophy in the late 1950s as a philosophy related to the idea of the infinite. Ever since philosophy encountered revelational thought, it has been driven to think of the universe as created. Modern philosophy tries to answer the questions of how the relationship between the infinite and the finite is established and whether there is a difference between them, in the context of its existence debate.
Levinas focuses on the infinite finite relationship found in the third of Descartes’ “Metaphysical Meditations”. He attempts to rethink the finding of the infinite in the finite by transcending it and not being reduced to the finite, not in terms of ontology, but ethically. In his article titled “God and Philosophy”, which he wrote in the 1980s, he finds the place of God in philosophy in “ethics”. According to Levinas, hospitable thought towards others is a philosophy in which “ethics” precedes ontology.
“Western” philosophy reduces the “Other” to the Same: it annihilates the otherness of the Other by associating it with the Same through concepts, principles, representations. The various ways in which modern philosophy constructs the relation between the finite and the infinite can be thought of in terms of the relation of the Same and the Other. For Hegel, for example, the Same is infinite, and he reduces the finite to infinity. Kant tries to reduce the infinite to the finite.
According to Levinas, there are also philosophical reasons for the spread of racism in Europe. When European culture encounters something other than itself, it always wants to define the terms of this encounter. In the West, the mind believes that it is one and does not want to have a dialogue with another mind or learn anything from it. Levinas rethinks transcendence in an ethical context, rejecting the classical mystical understanding of “transcendence” in which the self melts into the other. Here, the meaning of ethics is not to impose universality, its own understanding on others, but to be open to re-interpreting the world with the language of another.
Levinas is influenced by Husserl’s theory of intentionality of consciousness, which asserts that beings can be given to consciousness “as they are”, and Heidegger’s analysis of human existence on the basis of “being in the world”, which goes beyond the subject-object opposition.
Levinas dealt with the crisis of European culture during his lifetime by focusing on the relationship between the Same and the Other. This theme is “How is transcendence possible?” discusses it by relating it to the question.
According to him, “metaphysical desire” establishes a relationship with the absolute other, just as a father is transported through his child to a future full of possibilities that are not his own. The otherness of the absolute president resides in his infinitely transcending the meaning I give him. This transcendence is embodied in the ethical relationship with the other. The transcendental movement in face-to-face relationship embodies a situation in which the radical other does not dissolve into unity. It is an eternal, transcendent existence that resists integrity, embodied in the ethical relationship.
In On Escape, the overwhelming experience of being creates the need for “transcendence”. This need makes us think of ways to “get out of existence”, to escape. For Time and Other, transcendence is not dying, dying would be the loss of self. Death can be a salvation for those who suffer a lot, but one cannot die at will, one can become too passive to die, and after death, presence can return in the anonymous whisper of being. So, transcendence is to go towards the other while still being and not to return to yourself again. If this situation can be realized, it will first abolish philosophical monism, and then lead philosophy to pluralism through dualism.
Levinas In Time and Other, the emergence of an ego in the world by assuming its own existence is called “hypostasis”.