Emmanuel Levinas (1906-1995)

Emmanuel Levinas is one of the most interesting European thinkers in the 20th Century. He is Jewish and grew up in Russia, studies philosophy with Husserl and Heidegger in Freiburg, fights with the French Army against the Germans, looses his family to the Holocaust, and is captured by the Nazis, but survives. After the war, he eventually becomes a professor at the Université de Paris Nanterre. He writes many books in his later life, and teaches at the Sorbonne as well. He integrates phenomenology, ethics, metaphyscis, and theology in a unique way, but it takes energy to understand him. He is also trying to re-think and re-interpret the European history of ideas in light of a deep sense of justice and peace.

For him, philosophy does not originate in metaphysics, but in a sense of obligation that arises from the encounter with the Other (“the face of the Other’), and develops into a form of ethics that he calls “first philosophy.”

Levinas Texts on this website:

His Life:

(Quoted from the Stanford Encyclopedia)

  • 1906 Born January 12 in Kaunas (or Kovno, in Russian), Lithuania. Lithuania is a part of pre-Revolutionary Russia in which the then surrounding culture ‘tolerates’ Jews. He is the eldest child in a middle class family and has two brothers, Boris and Aminadab.
  • 1914 In the wake of the War, Levinas’s family emigrates to Karkhov, in the Ukraine. The family returns to Lithuania in 1920, two years after the country obtains independence from the Revolutionary government.
  • 1923 Goes to study philosophy in Strasbourg (France). Levinas studies philosophy with Maurice Pradines, psychology with Charles Blondel, and sociology with Maurice Halbwachs. He meets Maurice Blanchot who will become a close friend.
  • 1928–29 Levinas travels to Freiburg to study with Edmund Husserl; he attends Heidegger’s seminar.
  • 1930 Publishes his thesis in French, The Theory of Intuition in Husserl’s Phenomenology.
  • 1931 French translation, by Levinas, of Husserl’s Sorbonne lectures, Cartesian Meditations, in collaboration with Gabrielle Peiffer.
  • 1932 He marries Raïssa Levi, whom he had known since childhood.
  • 1934 Levinas publishes a philosophical analysis of “Hitlerism,” Reflections on the Philosophy of Hitlerism.
  • 1935 Levinas publishes an original essay in hermeneutic ontology, On Escape, in the Émile Bréhier’s journal Recherches philosophiques (reprinted in 1982).
  • 1939 Naturalized French; enlists in the French officer corps.
  • 1940 Captured by the Nazis; imprisoned in Fallingsbotel, a labor camp for officers. His Lithuanian family is murdered. His wife Raïssa, and daughter, Simone, are hidden by religious in Orléans.
  • 1947 Following the publication of Existence and Existents (which Levinas began writing in captivity), and Time and the Other that regrouped four lectures given at the Collège Philosophique (founded by Jean Wahl), Levinas becomes Director of the École Normale Israélite Orientale, Paris.
  • 1949 After the death of their second daughter, Andrée Éliane, Levinas and his wife have a son, Michael, who becomes a pianist and a composer.
    Levinas publishes En découvrant l’existence avec Husserl et Heidegger (selections of which appear in 1998 as Discovering Existence with Husserl).
  • 1957 He delivers his first Talmudic readings at the Colloque des Intellectuels juifs de Langue française. A colloquium attended by Vladimir Jankélévitch, André Neher, and Jean Halpérin, among others.
  • 1961 Publishes his doctorate (ès Lettres), Totality and Infinity: An Essay on Exteriority. Position at the Université de Poitiers.
  • 1963 Publishes Difficult Freedom: Essays on Judaism.
  • 1967 Professor at the Université de Paris, Nanterre, with Paul Ricœur.
  • 1968 Publishes Quatres lectures talmudiques (English translation in Nine Talmudic Readings).
  • 1972 Humanism of the Other.
  • 1973 Lecture at the Université de Paris IV-Sorbonne.
  • 1974 Otherwise than Being, or Beyond Essence, the second magnum opus.
  • 1975 Sur Maurice Blanchot (no English translation).
  • 1976 Proper Names.
  • 1977 Du sacré au saint (English translation in Nine Talmudic Readings).
  • 1982 Of God Who Comes to Mind, Beyond the Verse and the radio conversations with Philippe Nemo, Ethics and Infinity.
  • 1984 Transcendance et Intelligibilité (English translation in Emmanuel Levinas: Basic Philosophical Writings)
  • 1987 Outside the Subject, a collection of texts, old and new on philosophers, language, and politics.
  • 1988 In the Time of the Nations.
  • 1990 De l’oblitération: Entretien avec Françoise Armengaud (no English translation); a discussion about the sculpture of fellow Lithuanian, Sasha Sosno.
  • 1991 Entre Nous: On Thinking-of-the-Other. An issue of the prestigious Les Cahiers de L’Herne is dedicated to Levinas’s work.
  • 1993 Sorbonne lectures of 1973–74, published as God, Death, and Time. The annual colloquium at Cerisy-la-Salle publishes a volume devoted to him.
  • 1994 Raïssa Levinas dies in September. Levinas publishes a collection of essays, Liberté et commandement (no English translation) and Unforeseen History, edited by Pierre Hayat.
  • 1995 Alterity and Transcendence.
  • Emmanuel Levinas dies in Paris, December 25.
  • 1996 New Talmudic Readings (published posthumously).
  • 1998 Éthique comme philosophie première (no English translation, published posthumously).

Interview with Levinas, 1993

External Links:

Join the conversation! 2 Comments

  1. […] Emmanuel Levinas is a unique philosopher in the 20th century. He redefines traditional philosophy by radically re-thinking it from the point of view of justice, which in his understanding originates in the encounter with the other. For Aristotle, the “first philosophy” is metaphysics: what is the meaning of the verb “to be.” This leads to a whole system of ontology that serves as the background to 2500 years of metaphysical thought. Throughout the centuries, philosophers have tried to reinterpret this definition of metaphysics or to break away from it. The last philosopher who challenged the Aristotelian foundation was Heidegger: He claimed that “being” is always the being of a subject, it is “existence,” and therefore we can approach metaphysics through an analysis of “Dasein.” […]

  2. […] Levinas’ relation to Heidegger is interesting: Both had Husserl as their teacher, and originally, Levinas was deeply influenced by Heidegger’s work. Later, however, Levinas condemned Heidegger’s involvement with National Socialism, and stated: “One can forgive many Germans, but there are some Germans it is difficult to forgive. It is difficult to forgive Heidegger.” Levinas, who was a devout Jew, contrasts the infinity of the good beyond being with Heidegger’s immanence and totality of ontology. […]


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