Kierkegaard and Lev­inas: Ethics, Pol­i­tics, and Religion

J. Aaron Sim­mons and David Wood, eds.
  • Review
By – January 16, 2012
Soren Kierkegaard (1813 – 1855), a reli­gious Chris­t­ian and the father of exis­ten­tial­ist phi­los­o­phy and the­ol­o­gy, and Emmanuel Lev­inas (1906 – 1996), an Ortho­dox Jew who is wide­ly regard­ed as one of the most impor­tant eth­i­cal philoso­phers of the 20th cen­tu­ry, are com­pared, con­trast­ed, and some­times crit­i­cized in this gen­er­al­ly inter­est­ing vol­ume of schol­ar­ly essays. In tech­ni­cal philo­soph­i­cal lan­guage, the essays con­sid­er some of the sim­i­lar­i­ties and dif­fer­ences between Kierkegaard and Lev­inas’ phi­los­o­phy of reli­gion, deal­ing with such themes as love and tran­scen­dence, time, alter­i­ty (oth­er­ness) and escha­tol­ogy (the soul’s rela­tion­ship to death, judg­ment, heav­en, and hell), obligation/​respon­si­bil­i­ty, and sub­jec­tiv­i­ty. The main lim­i­ta­tion of this anthol­o­gy is the intro­duc­tion, for it does not ade­quate­ly con­tex­tu­al­ize each the­o­rist in the his­to­ry of ideas and pro­vide a straight­for­ward, let alone com­pelling com­par­i­son of the thinkers on the major themes that their philoso­phies dif­fer on and have in com­mon. While the edi­tors give a cur­so­ry overview of the two thinkers, most of the intro­duc­tion is a sum­ma­ry of the twelve essays in the vol­ume. Nor does the vol­ume deal ade­quate­ly with the prac­ti­cal every­day impli­ca­tions of each phi­los­o­phy for liv­ing the socalled good life.” This anthol­o­gy is meant main­ly for schol­ars and/​or layper­sons who are famil­iar with the essen­tials” of Kierkegaard and Lev­inas, espe­cial­ly the lat­ter, whose spe­cial­ized lan­guage is extreme­ly chal­leng­ing to the uninitiated.
Paul Mar­cus, Ph.D., a psy­cho­an­a­lyst, is the author of Being for the Oth­er: Emmanuel Lev­inas, Eth­i­cal Liv­ing and Psy­cho­analy­sis and In Search of the Good Life: Emmanuel Lev­inas, Psy­cho­analy­sis and the Art of Living.

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