The Cam­bridge Intro­duc­tion to Emmanuel Levinas

Michael L. Morgan
  • Review
By – August 30, 2011
Mor­gan has writ­ten a use­ful and acces­si­ble intro­duc­tion to the famous­ly obtuse phi­los­o­phy of Lev­inas, per­haps the great­est eth­i­cal philoso­pher of our time. A French phe­nom­e­nol­o­gist, Tal­mu­dic schol­ar, Holo­caust sur­vivor, and prac­tic­ing Ortho­dox Jew, Lev­inas has devel­oped what has been called an eth­i­cal tran­scen­den­tal­ism.” That is, a phi­los­o­phy that assumes that respon­si­bil­i­ty is the essen­tial, pri­ma­ry and fun­da­men­tal struc­ture of sub­jec­tiv­i­ty.” For Lev­inas, it is the har­mo­ny achieved between so much good­ness and so much legal­ism that con­sti­tutes the orig­i­nal note of Judaism.” Levinas’s focus was to uni­ver­sal­ize Judaism, to bring bib­li­cal wis­dom” to the atten­tion of Gen­tiles (and Jews) lodged in a Greek lex­i­con of intel­li­gi­bil­i­ty.” In oth­er words, Lev­inas attempts to trans­late the ethos of the Bible into Greek phi­los­o­phy, expli­cat­ing the eth­i­cal mes­sage of Judaism, with its com­mit­ment to the Good, into the lan­guage of phi­los­o­phy, with its com­mit­ment to the True. Mor­gan has pro­vid­ed us with a good overview of Levinas’s key ideas, though the book would have been improved if it had a sharp­er crit­i­cal edge. That said, Mor­gan has writ­ten a need­ed ser­vice” book, one that presents a sum­ma­ry of Levinas’s views in a read­able and inter­est­ing manner.
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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