Abstract

Lévinas’ claim of ethics as the first philosophy has been compared to the Confucian project. While the similarity between Lévinas and the Confucians in their central concern for ethics is apparent, I argue in this essay that the Daoists may have a deeper resonance with Lévinas. With the inspiration of Lévinas’ insights into sense and meaning, I investigate how Lévinas’ subjectivity and the Daoist, in particular the Zhuangzian, notion of the non-being self draw on the same primordial experiential base that has given rise to an understanding of our self that leads to an embodied transcendence. In the context of battling the modern Western autonomous and egoistic self, which has caused much damage in modern history, I explore whether an appreciation of the pre-ego, pre-reflective experiences upon which Lévinas and Zhuangzi build their subjectivity and non-being self can lead us to ethics and spirituality, with a new understanding of human freedom that is radically different from the modern notion of freedom as autonomy.

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