Reply To: Fichte and the Romantics

  • Gary

    March 6, 2024 at 8:20 pm

    So, I have a whole section of my private library related to Lévinas, both translations of his original writing from French to English, and secondary literature commenting on his ideas. I think that a good basic introduction to Lévinas would be the Colin Davis Jr book ‘Levinas. An Introduction.’

    But if you are interested in Levinas’s project as he defined it–the ‘de-formalization of time’–then I have found the book by Eric Severson called ‘Levinas’s Philosophy of Time’ published by Duquesne University Press to be a summary of Levinas through the lens of this particular perspective which is a theme that runs throughout Levinas’s philosophical writings. Levinas’s major focus is ‘Ethics’ from the perspective of French phenomenology as well as Husserlian German phenomenology, although approaching Levinas as a counterpoint to the phenomenological perspective of Husserl’s rebellious student, Martin Heidegger, as Heidegger laid in out in ‘Being and Time’, and who was a powerful early influence on Levinas, who had gone to Freiburg to study with Husserl, but ended up encountering and being influenced by Heidegger while being supervised in his thesis by Husserl. But World War II produced a fundamental ‘parting of the ways’ between Levinas and Heidegger. Levinas, who was Jewish and originally from Lithuania, joined and became an officer in the French Resistance, was captured and interred, and lost most of his family back in Lithuania, while Heidegger became a Nazi. While Levinas utilized the basic philosophical framework that Heidegger had developed, as pointed out by Mensch in his essay, they had fundamental differences in how the ideas were to be applied in the context of human existence. While Heidegger placed his emphasis on ontology, self-preservation, and the need to live courageously and ‘authentically’ in the shadow of the certainty of one’s own death, Levinas recognized that relation to the Other, and the ethical approach to relationship, and obligations in relationship to alterity–ie. to the ‘Other’, were of greater importance and concern than a self-referenced ontological focus. Another summary of Levinas’s philosophical project oft quoted is that ‘ethics precedes ontology’. Responsibility is of higher value than freedom, and that freedom is a necessary prerequisite for fulfilling obligations to care for the Other and to address their needs. I think this stark contrast between Levinas and Heidegger is included fairly nicely in the essay by Mensch.

    There are a number of good books about other aspects of Levinas’s philosophical oeuvre… ‘Levinas and the Wisdom of Love’ by Christopher Beals, the Levinas guide page on the Duquesne University Press website… , ‘Levinas and the Trauma of Responsibility’ by Cynthia Coe reviewed here: , and ‘Longing for the Other. Levinas and Metaphysical Desire’ by Drew Dalton see:

    …is also a good book about Levinas’s particular ideas regarding different forms of ‘desire’.

    So there are some ideas for you, Whit. The other towering figure in the context of modern philosophy for me is Charles Sanders Peirce, father of American pragmatism (which he termed ‘Pragmaticism’ in order to distinguish his form of this philosophical approach from related others).