Levinas on the Primacy of the Ethical
Philosophy as Prophecy
Imprint: Northwestern University Press
The philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas affirms both the urgency of peace and the fact that peace is never finally assured. This tension is a question of responsibility and of the ethical relation in which that responsibility is grounded. Jeffrey Bloechl pursues this prophetic dimension of Levinas’s philosophy—his commitment to phenomenology and to a philosophy of religion—to make the case for the mutual reinforcement and intelligibility of these two threads.
Levinas on the Primacy of the Ethical traces the emergence of Levinas’s early thought in relation to modern political philosophy, his revision of Martin Heidegger’s existential phenomenology, the consolidation of his mature position, his important differences with Freudian psychoanalysis, the turn from metaphysics to language in his later philosophy, and his complex relationship with Christian theology. Starting with an exposition of how positive notions of religious transcendence are already present in some of Levinas’s early phenomenological texts, Bloechl then stakes the reverse claim: that Levinas’s conception of God is dependent on his existential phenomenology. Proceeding chronologically, but with frequent nods to later developments, this book builds toward the ultimate assertion that Levinas offers us a phenomenology of event and of relation without appeal to any foundation, ground, or causal principle. Only in this way is Levinas able to generate an argument—and not merely an exhortation—for the primacy of the ethical as he conceives it.
Chapter 1. Situation and Violence. Levinas, Sartre, and Heidegger
Chapter 2. The Spirituality of Captivity: Being Jewish
Chapter 3. Plurality and Infinity: Ethics as Religion
Chapter 4. The Ethics of Desire: Levinas and Psychoanalysis
Chapter 5. Speech and Transcendence: Levinas’s Theory of Metaphor
Chapter 6. The One God and the Other: Levinas and Christian Theology
Conclusion: Prophecy and the Ethical Plot of Humanity
“This volume goes to the heart of Levinas’s profoundly original and thus challenging ethics, clarifying and highlighting its essentials without conflation, simplification, or superficial criticism, and accenting the all-important social transcendence or ‘prophecy’ of goodness that makes for the humanity of the human.” —Richard A. Cohen, author of Levinasian Meditations: Ethics, Philosophy, and Religion
“Philosophy as Prophecy accomplishes a critical task. Bringing together Levinas’s philosophical writings and his writings on Judaism, Jeffrey Bloechl offers a fresh interpretation of Levinas’s phenomenology. Using his expertise in psychoanalysis, philosophy, and religious studies, Bloechl’s approach to phenomenology addresses some of the fundamental questions in Levinas’s corpus. This book is a must read for everyone working in Levinas scholarship, religious studies, and contemporary continental philosophy.” —Claire Katz, author of Levinas and the Crisis of Humanism