Philosophy | Seminar on Topics in History of Philosophy
P710 | 26307 | Morgan


Topic: Emanuel Levinas

Course meets with P305

	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.

I am very, very excited to be teaching this course.  To my knowledge,
no other 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