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INTRODUCTION The overall movement of Levinas’s philosophy is toward “the outside.” By this I do not mean to make a statement about the development of his philosophy, but about its constant polarity at every stage. This movement dominates his entire philosophy, and is already present in his first original work, “De l’évasion” (“On Escape”), in 1935. His philosophy is a metaphysics, structured and sustained by that movement of transcendence: transcendence being the movement of the self (or “same”) toward the outside (the “other” or alterity). The “I” is understood as interiority itself. Like an organism in the natural world, it has its inner economy. This theme is developed in a preliminary way in the essay “The I and the Totality,” then a few years later in his first major work, Totality and Infinity: An Essay on Exteriority (1961), with its extensive analysis of the inside (“Interiority and Economy”) and the outside (“Exteriority and the Face”). The analysis continues in the same direction, albeit with important modifications, in Levinas’s last major work, Otherwise than Being or Beyond Essence (1974), the last section of which is titled “Outside.” This philosophy goes against the contemporary grain for a number of reasons, first, by being a metaphysics. Kant declared the metaphysical project hopelessly beyond the reach of human understanding. More recently, contemporary philosophers (particularly , but not exclusively, Heideggerians), would reject the inside/outside dichotomy as being too compromised by its long 1 SMITH_F2_1-16 3/2/05 7:20 PM Page 1 metaphysical and theological past to have a promising future. Not only “the inner man,” but subjectivity altogether, is seen by some as an anachronism.1 So much for continental philosophy. In this country the triumph of scientism, the current form of naturalism, has so dominated philosophical discussion as to have made metaphysical speculation seem, to many, an idle pastime. Nevertheless, Levinas’s philosophy has the attraction for me of renewing humanistic thought, not by appeals to the aesthetic or cultural domains, but by reviving and deepening the ethical intuitions that lie dormant within humanism itself.2 The present study will follow this centrifugal movement in Levinas’s philosophy, exploring its presuppositions and implications , the critique it has both given and received with respect to other philosophies, and the avenues it opens up for future research and reflection. As such, it may be helpful in orienting readers of this important and original thinker. It does not give special emphasis to either side of Levinas’s work, the philosophical or the Judaic. The distinction, though real, is less dramatic than one might suppose , since Levinas’s texts on Judaism are charged with philosophical significance. The relationship between these two aspects of his work will be one of the issues this introduction will address. The only claim to originality that such a work as this may have is in the way I have allowed my own interests to guide my approach to the texts of Levinas, putting questions to them that may differ from those whose interests are either more specialized or informed by a different background. I suppose that Levinas’s thought presents a coherent whole, finding the points of articulation between the philosophical and the Judaic facets of Levinas’s œuvre, which one commentator has described as a diptych, one panel of which contains essentially philosophical texts, the other “religious” or “Jewish” ones.3 If I therefore refer to Levinas’s “thought,” this is not to be construed as a lesser category than philosophy, but rather as a broader 2 Toward the Outside SMITH_F2_1-16 3/2/05 7:20 PM Page 2 one, embracing all aspects of reflection, even those that may for historically contingent reasons be routinely excluded from the domain of philosophy proper.4 Biographical Note Emmanuel Levinas was born in Kovno (or Kaunus), Lithuania, which was still Russian, in 1906. His parents spoke Yiddish to each other and Russian to the children (Emmanuel and his two younger brothers Boris and Aminadab). He received Hebrew lessons beginning at age six. Forced to leave Kovno in 1915, the family moved to Kharkov, in the Ukraine, then back to Kovno in 1919, after the German defeat. This border life, at the crossroads of so many different nationalities and beliefs, constituted Levinas’s first milieu. “The extinction of these crossroads was brought about by the bureaucrats of ideas who called nations and classes to arms, imposed a global perspective and introduced categories that differentiated members...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780820705538
Related ISBN
9780820703688
MARC Record
OCLC
607623575
Pages
285
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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