Philosophy | Topics in Philosophy of Judaism
P305 | 3394 | Morgan


Topic: Emmanuel Levinas: Ethics as First Philosophy

This class meets with Philosophy P535, Religious Studies R462 and R541

	Emmanuel Levinas is one of the most fascinating and important
philosophers of the twentieth century.  His central insight is that
ethics is fundamental to philosophy and to human existence.  Simple as
it sounds, this insight is deep and subtle.  In this course we shall
explore what it means, how Levinas arrives at it, what its
implications are for philosophy, politics, religion, and Judaism, and
much more.  Levinas's writings and interviews are challenging and
difficult, but the rewards of understanding his thinking are great.

	Born in Kovno, Lithuania in 1906, Emmanuel Levinas ventured to
Strasbourg in 1923, where he turned to the study of philosophy and
especially the phenomenology of Edmund Husserl.  In 1928-1929 he
traveled to Freiburg, studied with Husserl, and became infatuated with
the philosophical teaching of Martin Heidegger.  Returning to France,
he wrote a book on Husserl's phenomenology and began an exploration of
Heidegger's thought.  But the rise of Nazi fascism and Heidegger's
Nazi affiliation led him to serious and life-long doubts about the
viability of Heidegger's philosophy.  By the late 1940s these doubts
were expressed in two short books and thereafter in essays and
writings that showed the emergence of his own response to Husserl and
Heidegger and the contemporary crisis of Western civilization.  These
reflections culminated in his first major work Totality and Infinity,
published in 1961.  The ideas explored there continued to be
developed, ramified, and enriched in a host of essays, articles,
interviews, and subsequent books during the seventies, eighties, to
his death in 1995.

	Levinas believes that there is a dimension of human life that
is hidden by our institutions and by much of modern experience.  It
concerns the way that our encounters with other people are
fundamentally shaped by the responsibility we have toward them.  He
seeks to clarify and explore this dimension of responsibility in a
number of ways; he shows how it is related to other conceptions of
human existence prominent in Western philosophy and how it expresses
itself in various types of social relationships.  Yet, in a certain
sense, Levinas thinks that this fundamental relationship with others
is beyond ordinary language, while at the same time it plays a special
role in language and communication, in our experience of time and
history, in our sense of social justice, and in our religious lives
and thinking.

	In this course we shall read essays, interviews and chapters
from Levinas's work from the 1940s through the 1980s.  We shall
explore the development of his thinking, its central themes, and his
indebtedness to others  from Bergson, Husserl and Heidegger to Buber
and Rosenzweig.  The course is intended for upper level undergraduates
and for graduate students with an interest in twentieth century
philosophy, religious thought, and Judaism.  No special previous
courses are required, but acquaintance with nineteenth and twentieth
century European philosophy and intellectual culture would be helpful.
There will be exams and written assignments.

This course is new, and I am very, very excited to be teaching it.  To
my knowledge, no course at I.U. has ever been devoted wholly to
Levinas. My goal will be to use every means I have available to help
us understand this extremely demanding and important philosopher; it
will be very much a cooperative venture.  If you have any questions
about the course, please contact Michael Morgan at morganm@indiana.edu