Skip to main content
Indiana University Bloomington
  • People


Course Description

Emmanuel Levinas: Ethics, Politics, and Judaism (3 cr.)
Michael Morgan
JSTU-J 303 Arts & Humanities Topics in Jewish Studies #27813/ PHIL-P 305 Topics in the Philosophy of Judaism /REL-D 362 Religious Issues in Contemporary Judaism
TR 1-2:15; SY 108

Emmanuel Levinas (1906-1995) is a major French philosopher of the second half of the twentieth century and is among the half-dozen most important Jewish thinkers of the century.  Born in Lithuania, Levinas lived most of his life in France; he was primarily a philosopher but also a deeply committed Jewish educator who often lectured and wrote about Judaism and Jewish matters.  Levinas was influenced by Bergson, Husserl, Heidegger, and others, like Buber and Rosenzweig.  We will look at the philosophical world in which he was educated and explore his unique development as a philosopher in the years after World War Two.  Levinas reacted against the main tendencies of Western philosophy and religious thought and as a result shaped novel, powerful, and challenging ways of understanding philosophy, religion, ethics, and politics. 

In this course, we will examine works from every stage of Levinas=s career, from his early study of Husserl and Heidegger to the emergence of his new understanding of the human condition and the primacy of ethics, the face-to-face encounter with the human other, the role of language and the relationship between ethics and religion, and finally his understanding of Judaism and its relationship to Western philosophy.  We will be interested in his philosophical method, the relevance of his thinking for ethics and religion, the role of language in his philosophy and the problem of the limits of expressibility, and the implications of his work for politics.  We shall also consider his conception of Judaism, its primary goals and character, and its relation to Western culture and philosophy.

The class will focus on reading texts -- books, essays, articles and interviews.  Levinas=s writings are very demanding to read and understand.  In class we will discuss the main lines of his thinking and then read and examine texts.  We will also try to see the importance of his work for Western Anglo-American philosophy, moral philosophy, and religious thought.