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Levinasian Meditations

Ethics, Philosophy, and Religion

By Richard A. Cohen

Publication Year: 2010

A prominent scholar of the life and work of Emmanuel Levinas, Richard A. Cohen collects in this volume the most significant of his writings on Levinas over the past decade. With these essays, Cohen not only clearly explains the nuances of Levinas’s project, but he attests to the importance of Levinas’s distinctive insights for philosophy and religion. Divided into two parts, the book’s part one considers Levinas’s philosophical project by bringing him into dialogue with Western thought, including Plato, Aristotle, Kant, even Shakespeare, as well as twentieth century thinkers such as Heidegger, Husserl, Sartre, and Buber among others. In part two, Cohen addresses Levinas’s contribution to religious thought, particularly regarding his commentary on and approach to Judaism, by using the interpretive lens of Levinas’s Talmudic writing, “A Religion for Adults.”

Throughout the book, these seminal essays provide a thorough illumination of Levinas’s most original insight and significant contribution to Husserlian phenomenology — which permeates both his philosophical and religious works — that signification and meaning are ultimately based on an ethically structured intersubjectivity that cannot be understood in terms of language and being. Cohen succeeds in defending and clarifying Levinas’s commitment to the primacy of ethics, his “ethics as first philosophy,” which was the hallmark of the French phenomenologist’s intellectual career.

Published by: Duquesne University Press

Title Page

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pp. iii


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pp. iv


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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-x


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pp. xi

PART ONE: Ethics as First Philosophy

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pp. 3-15

Terms such as “science,” “ethics, and “aesthetics,” which refer to actions and judgments and to the intellectual disciplines which produce and reflect on them, are less inspiring and evocative than “the true, the good, and the beautiful.” The latter refer to ideals, to the...

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ONE: The End of the World

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pp. 17-36

When Aristotle thought of the end of the world he had in mind its telos, asking whether man’s purpose was one or many, and whether our highest goal was an achievement of contemplation or moral action, and how the two were related. Today when we think of the end of the...

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TWO: Being, Time, and the Ethical Body

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pp. 37-56

In the name of ethics, Levinas will challenge the apparently inescapable notion — dominant for millennia in the West — that the body must be understood in terms of being. The challenge seems untenable at first and second glance, fundamentally outrageous, irrational, and nonsensical...

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THREE: Levinas

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pp. 57-79

In fact Levinas thinks a great deal about death. The death he thinks least about (but not least of ), however, is death as Heidegger understood it in Being and Time. Indeed, no thinker has analyzed human mortality with greater intensity, made it more central to human existence...

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FOUR: Buber and Levinas - and Heidegger

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pp. 80-94

The Levinas-Buber relation is a deep and instructive relationship.1 Martin Buber is senior and far better known. His book, I and Thou, first published in 1923, was immediately and widely recognized as an important spiritual work and quickly translated into many languages...

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FIVE: Levinas, Plato, and Ethical Exegesis

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pp. 93-106

The notion of “ethical exegesis” is not only inspired by Levinas’s thought, but expresses the essential character of it, its “method,” as it were, the “saying” of its “said.” Accordingly, here I will begin by reviewing some of what I have said elsewhere about ethical exegesis...

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SIX: Some Notes on the Title of Levina's Totality and Infinity and Its First Sentence

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pp. 107-127

Being and Time, Being and Nothingness, Totality and Infinity — these short titles, made up of two ponderous words connected by an “and,” modest in its indeterminacy, spanning the twentieth century, announce big books, important books about the most important...

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SEVEN: Choosing and the Chosen

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pp. 128-149

Let us straightaway acknowledge that the vision and intentions of Sartre the man seem at times to exceed the confines of Sartre the philosopher, whose philosophy is articulated most precisely in Being and Nothingness and in several books and articles preceding...

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EIGHT: Some Reflections on Levinas on Shakespeare

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pp. 150-168

To link Emmanuel Levinas, twentieth century Jewish French philosopher of ethics, and William Shakespeare, sixteenth century Elizabethan dramatist and poet, is neither an idle fancy nor an arbitrary academic exercise. Even beyond a natural curiosity that wants to...

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NINE: Defending Levinas

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pp. 169-196

Lai: I still remember when we met at the international conference on Levinas at Purdue University last year. You gave a plenary address on “The Reception of Levinas in the States,” so perhaps you could first briefly tell us about what is the reception of Levinas in general...

PART TWO: Religion for Adults

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pp. 199-205

From a theological perspective, religion is a challenge to human freedom. Here I will speak of the monotheisms, but monists face problems of a similar order. If God is omnipotent, then how can humans be free? If humans are free, then how can God be omnipotent? Lacking...

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TEN: Levinas, Judaism, and the Primacy of the Ethical

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pp. 207-225

Emmanuel Levinas was born on January 12, 1906,1 in the Lithuanian city of Kaunas, known as “Kovno” to both Poles and Jews. In 1923, at the age of sixteen, Levinas left Kovno to study philosophy at the University of Strasbourg in France. During the 1928–29 academic...

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ELEVEN: Emmanuel Levinas

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pp. 226-235

For the philosopher and Jewish thinker, Emmanuel Levinas, there is no divorce between philosophy and religion. “There is a communication between faith and philosophy,” he writes, “and not the notorious con flict. Communication in both directions” (ITN 170)...

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TWELVE: Uncovering the "Difficult Universality" of the Face-to-Face

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pp. 236-254

The invisible but compelling force that commences discourse is moral (TI 201). Prior to any agreement or measure one has already heard too much and responded too little. To be human is to be inordinately obligated, responsible for the suffering of others, and at the same time,...

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THIRTEEN: Singularity

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pp. 255-272

A flame needs a candle as much as a candle needs a flame. Judaism finds the universal, the holy — the “image and likeness” of God — not in another world, a heaven hovering above or a “soul” or “spirit” detached from matter here below. Rather holiness is found here and...

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FOURTEEN: Levinas and Roesenweig

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pp. 273-287

“We were impressed by the opposition to the idea of totality in Franz Rosenzweig’s Stern der Erlosung, a work too often present in this book to be cited” (TI 28), Levinas wrote in the preface to Totality and Infinity. It is an extraordinary acknowledgment, made the more...

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FIFTEEN: Virtue Embodied

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pp. 288-295

On the eighth day of Chanukah, 5756 (December 25, 1995), Emmanuel Levinas was taken from this world. That his passing occurred during Chanukah, which recalls and celebrates the superiority of the light of Jerusalem over the light of Athens, is certainly fitting. That...

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SIXTEEN: Against Theology

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pp. 296-313

“Theology” is a notoriously difficult term to define, owing both to the depth of its meaning and its long and varied usage in the West. Etymologically, the term is a combination of two classical Greek words: theos, referring to the divine, and logos, referring to word,...

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SEVENTEEN: Theodicy After the Shoah

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pp. 314-327

What about evil? If the human self is meant to be good, to be “forthe- other,” then what sense can be made of the countervailing weight of being, being-for-oneself, selfishness, refusal of the other, the “as for me,” the “me first”? Even if we cannot have a good conscience after...


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pp. 328-356


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pp. 357-369


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pp. 369-379

E-ISBN-13: 9780820705620
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820704326

Page Count: 387
Publication Year: 2010