Emmanuel Levinas

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Emmanuel Lévinas

Emmanuel Levinas (French pronunciation: [leviˈna, leviˈnas]; 12 January 190625 December 1995) was a French philosopher and Talmudic commentator of Lithuanian Jewish origin.

To be or not to be is not the question where transcendence is concerned.


  • If every pure character in the Old Testament announces the Messiah, if every unworthy person is his torturer and every woman his Mother, does not the Book of Books lose all life with this obsessive theme?
    • On the doctrine of prefiguration.
    • Persons or Figures (1950)
  • To ignore the true God is in fact only half an evil; atheism is worth more than the piety bestowed on mythical gods.
    • A Religion for Adults (1957)
  • The moral consciousness can sustain the mocking gaze of the political man only if the certitude of peace dominates the evidence of war. Such a certitude is not obtained by a simple play of antitheses. The peace of empires issued from war rests on war. It does not restore to the alienated beings their lost identity. For that a primordial and original relation with being is needed.
    • Totality and Infinity (1961)
  • The comprehension of God taken as a participation in his sacred life, an allegedly direct comprehension, is impossible, because participation is a denial of the divine, and because nothing is more direct than the face to face, which is straightforwardness itself.
    • Totality and Infinity (1961)
  • By asserting the objectivity of the physical world, naturalism identifies the existence and the conditions of existence of the physical world with existence and the conditions of existence in general. It forgets that the world of the physicist necessarily refers back, through its intrinsic meaning, through the subjective world which one tries to exclude from reality as being pure appearance, conditioned by the empirical nature of man, which is incapable of reaching directly to a world of things in themselves. But while the world of the physicist claims to go beyond naive experience, his world really exists only in relation to naive experience.
    • The Theory Of Intuition In Husserls Phenomenology 1963, 1995 p. 9
  • The transition of the subject-object relation to that of the I-Thou implies a passage of consciousness to a new sphere of existence, viz, the interval, betweenness or Zwischen; and this is a passage from thought to Umfassung.
    • The Levinas reader by Levinas, Emmanuel p. 73
  • Fear for the Other, fear for the other man's death is my fear, but is in no way an individual's taking fright.
    • The Levinas reader by Levinas, Emmanuel p. 84
  • The detour to ideality leads to coinciding with oneself, that is, to certainty, which remains the guide and guarantee of the whole spiritual adventure of being.
    • The Levinas reader by Levinas, Emmanuel p. 89
  • The mores I return to myself, the more I divest myself, under the traumatic effect of persecution , of my freedom as a constituted, wilful, imperialistic subject, the more I discover myself to be responsible' the more just I am, the more guilty I am. I am 'in myself' through others.
    • The Levinas reader by Levinas, Emmanuel p. 102
  • The ego involved in responsibility is me and no one else, me with whom one whould have liked to pair up a sister soul, from whom one would have substitution and sacrifice.
    • The Levinas reader by Levinas, Emmanuel p. 116
  • The theory of transparency was set up in reaction to the theory of mental images, of an inner tableu which the perception of an object would leave in us. In imagination our gaze always goes outward, but imagination modifies and neutralizes the gaze: the real world appears in it as it were between parenthesis or quote marks.
    • The Levinas reader by Levinas, Emmanuel p. 134
  • To be or not to be is not the question where transcendence is concerned. The statement of being's other, of the otherwise than being, claims to state a difference over and beyond that which separates being from nothingness — the very difference of the beyond, the difference of transcendence.
    • Otherwise than Being, or Beyond Essence (1974) Chapter I, Section 1.

Quotes about Levinas

  • When ethics thus moves into the domain of politics and becomes morality, the possibility of violence appears because of the threat of the application of such absolutist forms of thought. Further, although the moral agent must remain free in order to avoid the totalizing domination of the state, morality must still be grounded in the ethical relation of the face-to-face.
    • Steven Bindeman, Levinas: The Face of Otherness and the Ethics of Therapy
  • According to Levinas, we construct our world in our individual minds, and this constructed reality has boundaries or "horizons" as Levinas calls it. But when the Face of the Other intrudes into this boundaried construction, what Levinas terms our "same," the Other inevitably becomes part of our construction. The key phrase is "our construction," because our construction of the Other is not the Other; the Other can never become one with our "same": it continually transcends our poor attempt to know it.
    • Peter Carrierre, Levinas, Ethics, Pedagogy, and the Face
  • In 1923 Levinas went to France to continue his studies, where he had Charles Blondell and Halbwachs as teachers.
    • Peter Lang, From the other to the totally other: the religious philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas p. 1
  • For Levinas there is a radical opposition between politics and religion. The former enslaves liberty by encompassing it within the 'Great All'. Religion on the other hand, which for Levinas is the metaphysical relationship with the Other, is based in respect and mutual aid even beyond need, submission and generosity.
    • Peter Lang, From the other to the totally other: the religious philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas p. 16
  • He teaches us that we can redeem our humanity by not just caring about our own perspective but by seeing details of the other individual in the mass of humans.
  • Levinas teaches us that to be entitled with the adjective of human, you must first acknowledge the humanity of the other, and particularize the other within multitude, the one, the specific.
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