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Levinas and the Philosophy of Religion

Jeffrey L. Kosky

Publication Year: 2001

Levinas and the Philosophy of Religion

Jeffrey L. Kosky

Reveals the interplay of phenomenology and religion in Levinas's thought.

"Kosky examines Levinas's thought from the perspective of the philosophy of religion and he does so in a way that is attentive to the philosophical nuances of Levinas's argument.... an insightful, well written, and carefully documented study... that uniquely illuminates Levinas's work." -- John D. Caputo

For readers who suspect there is no place for religion and morality in postmodern philosophy, Jeffrey L. Kosky suggests otherwise in this skillful interpretation of the ethical and religious dimensions of Emmanuel Levinas's thought. Placing Levinas in relation to Hegel and Nietzsche, Husserl and Heidegger, Derrida and Marion, Kosky develops religious themes found in Levinas's work and offers a way to think and speak about ethics and morality within the horizons of contemporary philosophy of religion. Kosky embraces the entire scope of Levinas's writings, from Totality and Infinity to Otherwise than Being, contrasting Levinas's early religious and moral thought with that of his later works while exploring the nature of phenomenological reduction, the relation of religion and philosophy, the question of whether Levinas can be considered a Jewish thinker, and the religious and theological import of Levinas's phenomenology. Kosky stresses that Levinas is first and foremost a phenomenologist and that the relationship between religion and philosophy in his ethics should cast doubt on the assumption that a natural or inevitable link exists between deconstruction and atheism.

Jeffrey L. Kosky is translator of On Descartes' Metaphysical Prism: The Constitution and the Limits of Onto-theo-logy in Cartesian Thought by Jean-Luc Marion. He has taught at Williams College.

Indiana Series in the Philosophy of Religion -- Merold Westphal, general editor

May 2001
272 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4, bibl., index, append.
cloth 0-253-33925-1 $39.95 s /

Published by: Indiana University Press

Series: Indiana Series in the Philosophy of Religion

Front Matter

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pp. vii

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pp. ix-x

If it is so difficult for a reader as keen as Jacques Derrida to describe, explain, or take note of Levinas’s work, how much more so for one like myself, who can hardly claim the years of experience and a comparable reputation! My task has been made much easier, however, by the fact that friends and family, teachers and peers have sustained me along the way. ...


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pp. xi-xii

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pp. xiii-xxiv

When Nietzsche and then Heidegger, standing at the brink of the twentieth century, announced the end of metaphysics, what they most put in question was something everyone knows: God and morality, or morality and God. Whatever the appropriate order might be, it has appeared ever since Nietzsche, if not before, that the destinies of morality and religion are ...

Part 1. Beyond Totality and Infinity

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1. Ethics as the End of Metaphysics

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pp. 3-24

It is not often well-enough remarked that Emmanuel Levinas’s Totality and Infinity seeks not to overcome or destroy metaphysics but to retain a positive sense of it. The author even goes so far as to proclaim that “[metaphysics] is the ultimate relation in Being” and that “ontology presupposes metaphysics” (TI, 48). In this way, Totality and Infinity marks an end of metaphysics ...

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2. Theology and the Unthought Constitution of Ethical Metaphysics

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pp. 25-46

Because in Totality and Infinity the discourse on the absolutely other is ethical, my reading in the previous chapter was decidedly not theological. In this, I acknowledged the express intentions of the author of Totality and Infinity when he writes “it would be false to qualify [the relation to the absolutely other] as theological” (TI, 42). However, on another reading, an ...

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3. Reduction to Responsibility

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pp. 47-58

Chapter 2 concluded by showing that the ethics of Totality and Infinity is still part and parcel of the tradition whose violence it intends to surpass. Like metaphysics as Heidegger understands it, Totality and Infinity has forgotten the ontological difference, and so its descriptions of the absolute are relativized or determined by this unthought forgetting. Totality and Infinity, that ...

Part 2

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4. Insight and Drift

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pp. 61-81

After metaphysics came to an end (positively in Hegel, negatively in Nietzsche), it was Edmund Husserl and phenomenology which inspired a new beginning of philosophy. For better or worse, this fact cannot be denied, and the twentieth century has again and again borne witness to the philosophical inspiration to be found in Husserl’s phenomenological insight. ...

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5. The De-posited Subject

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pp. 82-102

Levinas’s work is often treated as if it belonged solely and only to a postmodern morality. He is read as a philosopher who, running contrary to the main currents of postmodern thought, admonishes us to be more moral, to think first of the Other before ourselves. On the other hand, philosophers often treat his work as a phenomenological description of a particular, heretofore ...

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6. The Affected Subject:Responsibility or Dasein?

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pp. 103-128

If the same structure of subjectivity can be found outside ethics, then phenomenological philosophy would not necessarily call for an ethical supplement. Though Levinas claims that ethical language alone can guide phenomenology to the ultimate meaning of subjectivity, one might very well contest the privilege granted to ethics and attempt to articulate a meaning ...

Part 3

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7. The Death of God and Emergence of the Philosophy of Religion

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pp. 131-147

After having practiced the reduction to the point at which it laid bare the transcendental ego, Husserl asked himself, “As one who is meditating in the Cartesian manner, what can I do with the transcendental ego philosophically?” (CM, 27). This question should be heard as an exclamation that one utters upon discovering a rich field of untapped treasure. For Husserl, the ...

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8. Ethical Phenomenology and the Religiosity of the Subject

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pp. 148-172

To this point, my discussion has given no cause to believe that Levinas’s phenomenology of ethics has anything to do with religion. In fact, one might at first suspect that any intrusion of religious themes or language would only annul the responsibility of the responsible self—for at least three related reasons: (1) Religion, as it is often understood, consoles and ...

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9. The Ethical Possibility of God

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pp. 173-196

For the philosophy of religion, one phenomenon in particular poses a difficulty that has been almost insurmountable—that of God, more particularly, the transcendence of God. This difficulty is evident in the observed fact that the emergence of the modern philosophy of religion in the nineteenth century was simultaneous with what Hegel and Nietzsche both spoke of as “the ...


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pp. 197-220

Works Cited

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pp. 221-226


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pp. 227-233

E-ISBN-13: 9780253108555
E-ISBN-10: 0253108551
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253339256

Page Count: 264
Illustrations: 1 bibliog., 1 index
Publication Year: 2001

Series Title: Indiana Series in the Philosophy of Religion