Emmanuel Levinas

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Bracha L. Ettinger : Emmanuel Levinas (no year)
Emanuel Levinas 1983 Handwritten dedication

Emmanuel Levinas (also translated into French Lévinas) (* December 30, 1905 July / January 12,  1906 greg. In Kaunas , Kovno Governorate , Russian Empire ; † December 25, 1995 in Paris , France ) was a Franco-Lithuanian philosopher and Author .


Emmanuel Levinas was a son of the bookseller Jehile Levinas and his wife Dwora, nee. Gurwitsch. Levinas, who grew up with the Torah and classical Russian literature by Pushkin , Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky , studied philosophy at the University of Strasbourg from 1923 . Here he came into contact with Charles Blondel , Maurice Halbwachs , Maurice Pradines , Henri Carteron and Maurice Blanchot , with whom Levinas had a lifelong friendship. From 1927 to 1928 he continued his phenomenological studies at the Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg with Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger . In the spring of 1929 he took part as a student in the II. International University Courses in Davos, where Ernst Cassirer and Heidegger fought a battle of words in the Davos disputation . In the final revue, Levinas caricatured Cassirer, who was also Jewish, with bitter exaggeration - and later regretted it all his life.

In 1930 Levinas received his doctorate with a dissertation on the theory of the intuition dans la phenoménologie d 'Husserl (German Husserl's theory of view ). In the same year he received French citizenship .

1931 translated Levinas along with Gabrielle Pfeiffer , the Cartesian Meditations Husserl. From 1934 to 1939 he worked in Paris at a training institute for Jewish teachers. In 1940 he was taken prisoner by Germany . In 1942 he was transferred to a work detachment of Stalag XI B in Fallingbostel. The Carnets de Captivité he wrote during his imprisonment was published in 2009 as the first volume of his Œuvres complètes . When he learned in 1945 that his parents and brothers in Lithuania had fallen victim to the National Socialist extermination policy , he swore never to set foot on German soil again.

In 1946 Levinas became director of the École Normale Israélite Orientale in Paris, where he taught philosophy. In 1949 his son, the future composer Michaël Levinas, was born. In 1961 he completed his habilitation with a paper on totality and infinity . In 1967 he became a professor in Nanterre , where a collaboration with the French philosopher Paul Ricœur developed. In 1970 Levinas received an honorary doctorate from Loyola University Chicago . From 1973 until his retirement in 1976 he taught at the Sorbonne in Paris . Also in 1973 he received another honorary doctorate from the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven . In 1985 he received the 7th Premio Internazionale Federico Nietzsche of the Italian Nietzsche Society together with Domenico Corradini and Emanuele Severino . In 1989 he received the Balzan Prize for Philosophy.



Levinas' philosophy is strongly influenced by two philosophers: by the phenomenology of Edmund Husserl and by the thinking of Martin Heidegger, a student of Husserl. Other influences come from the Jewish tradition of the Torah , the Talmud and the history of the Jewish people.

Levinas, who also studied with Maurice Halbwachs , made a major contribution to making Husserl's thinking known in France since 1930. Jacques Derrida has dealt intensively with Levinas several times, first in 1964 in the essay Violence and Metaphysics , which made broader circles of intellectuals more aware of Levinas.

First philosophy

While epistemology and metaphysics form a basis in many classic system designs - referred to as First Philosophy - Levinas replaces their role with the analysis of a fundamental obligation: it differentiates itself into an ethic; Subject-theoretical prerequisites are secondary to this.

Traditional drafts of ethical theories are criticized by Levinas. In his view, people are treated as metaphysical objects, the value of which is determined based on a reflection on the nature of a subject. The subject has the status of a substantial anthropological universal . In this sense, Levinas criticizes “humanistic” approaches because they are “not human enough”. The central position of the ego as a subject that can make ethical judgments, grasp and determine moral truths and values is typical of the approaches criticized by him . According to these ideas, the human subject is then a measure of what is appropriate and what is inadequate, what is just and what is unjust.

Levinas replaces this central position with an obligation that lies ahead through the unconditional claim of an individual. He usually speaks of "the other". This requirement is “infinite” in the sense that a concrete I as a finite subject (with limited possibilities and especially limited time) cannot possibly do justice to it. For Levinas there is in principle no possibility of even approaching the redemption of this claim, which is opposed to the practical necessity of being subject to it.

In this unconditional claim, the subject is “unjustifiable”. Only then does a subject arise that can relate to itself (and its obligation). Levinas illustrates this with a fictional etymology of the expression “subject” as (Latin) sub-iactum, that is, subject (under the claim of the other). In contrast to this unconditional obligation, all ethical considerations are secondary. Questions of consideration only arise if and insofar as a subject is not only obliged to “the other”, but to at least two people. This is where Levina's traditional ethical theoretical approaches have their rightful place. The phenomenological fundamental ethics as developed by Levinas, on the other hand, has a pre-existing status; he therefore speaks of a proto-ethics.

In such a reversal of the order between the “subject” and the “other”, the latter - hence the choice of words “the other” - cannot be caught in its essence and dignity. The other is absolutely different, not just a different case of what I am, not just a relatively “ different I ” and not to be reduced to its appearance as a certain other.

Levinas' philosophy has been characterized now and then, based on Martin Buber , among other things , as the “philosophy of encounter”. This characterization is incorrect insofar as Levinas speaks out against a dialogical relationship between I and you, which should take place on the same levels. Instead, Levinas speaks of an unreachable asymmetry to the other that ultimately expands through every attempt at mediation. In contrast to traditional phenomenological theoretical approaches, Levinas emphasizes that the pre-philosophical obligation is fundamental for man's relationship to the world and himself. His criticism is directed against numerous variants of traditional subject theories and practically the entire tradition of ontology . In his opinion, the entire classical-occidental philosophy is based on ontology or metaphysics, and almost all modern philosophy is based on an epistemological or ethical primacy of the subject. Theoretical approaches that make the other person the case of an “alter ego” are also subject to reservations at Levinas, including most social science approaches (here one could think of Alfred Schütz's social phenomenology or symbolic interactionism ).

Philosophy of religion

In different contexts, including interpretations of the Talmud, Levinas has expressed himself in detail on questions of religious and philosophy. For him, God “falls into thought” in the face of the other. In doing so, theology, according to his claim, is not reduced to ethics, but only opened in it. Theological theory, like every theoretical utterance, has the status of “said”, in which the original “saying” has already been erased, but can be made audible again through “reduction”.

His approach has often been taken up by theologians; Noteworthy is the reception by the Tübingen dogmatist Thomas Freyer . Levinas himself, however, is critical of several aspects of Christian theology and has repeatedly rejected theoretical claims of theological systematics, which, however, has not prevented many theologians from setting new theological accents following certain motives of his thinking.


For a long time, Levinas mainly had critical theses on aesthetics. Works of art are to him "unlawful surreptitious". Only the late Levinas found the demands of the other also visible in aesthetics, especially in the original violence that was inflicted on the "face" of the other and his "voice" in every representation and which can be heard and seen in a special way through works of art do is.

Works (in German translation)

Monographs and collections of articles

  • Husserl's theory of perception . Translated from the French by Philippe P. Haensler and Sebastien Fanzun, Vienna: Turia + Kant, 2019. ISBN 978-3-85132-947-6
  • The unpredictability of history . Translated from the French by Alwin Letzkus, Freiburg i.Br. / Munich: Karl Alber, 2006. ISBN 978-3-495-48163-9
  • Demanding Judaism. Talmudic Discourses (Beyond the Letter, Vol. 2: Essays ). Translated from the French by Frank Miething, Frankfurt a. M .: New Review, 2005.
  • Way out of being . With the comments of Jacques Rolland. Translated, with an introduction and notes, edited by Alexander Chucholowski, Hamburg: Felix Meiner, 2005. ISBN 3-7873-1712-0
  • Frantic. Meditations on religion and philosophy . Edited and translated from the French by Frank Miething, Munich / Vienna: Carl Hanser, 1991.
  • The track of the other. Studies on phenomenology and social philosophy . Translated, edited and introduced by Wolfgang Nikolaus Krewani, Freiburg i.Br. / Munich: Karl Alber, 4 1999 (study edition). ISBN 978-3-495-47883-7
  • The time and the other . Translated and with an afterword by Ludwig Wenzler, Hamburg: Felix Meiner, 2003. ISBN 3-7873-1631-0 (First published in 1948 in the anthology Le Choix, le Monde, l´Existence . French new edition 1979.)
  • Proper names. Meditations on language and literature . From the French by Frank Miething (text selection), Munich / Vienna: Carl Hanser, 1988.
  • Ethics and infinity. Conversations with Philippe Nemo . Translated from the French by Dorothea Schmidt (Edition Passagen 11), Vienna: Passagen, 3 1996. ISBN 3-85165-014-X
  • God, death and time . From the French by Astrid Nettling and Ulrike Wasel (Edition Passagen 43), Vienna: Passagen, 1996. ISBN 3-85165-204-5
  • Humanism of the other person . Translated and provided with an introduction by Ludwig Wenzler, Hamburg: Felix Meiner, 1989.
  • Beyond the letter. Talmudic Readings (Vol. 1). Translated from the French by Frank Miething, Frankfurt a. M .: New Critique, 1996.
  • Beyond being or other than being happens . Translated from the French by Thomas Wiemer, Freiburg i.Br. / Munich: Karl Alber, 2 1998 (study edition). ISBN 978-3-495-47901-8 (Original: Autrement qu'être ou au-delà de l'essence , 1974)
  • New Talmud readings . Translated from the French and provided with an afterword by Frank Miething, Frankfurt a. M .: New Criticism, 2001.
  • Difficult freedom. Attempt on Judaism . Translated from the French by Eva Moldenhauer , Frankfurt a. M .: Jüdischer Verlag, 2 1996.
  • Hour of the nations. Talmud readings . Translated from the French by Elisabeth Weber, Munich: Wilhelm Fink, 1994.
  • Totality and infinity. Attempt on exteriority . Translated by Wolfgang Nikolaus Krewani, Freiburg i.Br. / Munich: Karl Alber, 4 2003 (study edition). ISBN 978-3-495-48055-7 (Original: Totalité et Infini: essai sur l'extériorité , 1961)
  • Vulnerability and Peace. Writings on politics and the political . Edited by Pascal Delhom and Alfred Hirsch, Zurich / Berlin: diaphanes, 2007. ISBN 978-3-935300-59-9
  • Four Talmud readings . Translated from the French by Frank Miething, Frankfurt a. M .: New Critique, 1993.
  • From sacred to sacred. Five new Talmud readings . Translated from the French by Frank Miething, Frankfurt a. M .: New Critique, 1998.
  • From being to being . Translated from the French by Anna Maria Krewani and Wolfgang Nikolaus Krewani (Phenomenology. Texts and Contexts, Vol. 1: Texts), Freiburg i.Br. / Munich: Karl Alber, 1997. ISBN 978-3-495-47632-1 (Original: De l'existence à l'existant , 1947)
  • When God comes to mind. Discourses on the Affliction of Transcendence . Translated from the French by Thomas Wiemer, Freiburg i.Br. / Munich: Karl Alber, 4 2004 (study edition). ISBN 978-3-495-47959-9
  • Between us. Try thinking about the other . From the French by Frank Miething, Munich / Vienna: Carl Hanser, 1995.

Articles (selection)

  • Exegesis and Transcendence. On a text from the treatise Makkoth 23b . In: Bernhard Casper (Ed.): Calling God. Phenomenological approaches. Karl Alber, Freiburg 1981, pp. 35-44.
  • God and Philosophy . In: Bernhard Casper (Ed.): Calling God. Phenomenological approaches. Karl Alber, Freiburg 1981, pp. 81-123.
  • L'autre dans Proust . In: Deucalion. Cahiers de philosophie , edited by Jean Wahl , Vol. 2, Éd. de la Revue "Fontaine", Paris 1947.

Secondary literature

Philosophy bibliography : Emmanuel Levinas - Additional references on the topic

Web links


Individual evidence

  1. He himself writes his name in Hebrew without an accent . Ludwig Wenzler, among others, joins this in his edition of Humanism of the Other Man , cf. the justification p. xxix; similarly among many others, for example Thomas Freyer, Richard Schenk (ed.): Emmanuel Levinas - Questions to the Modern Age , Vienna 1996; Ulrich Dickmann: Subjectivity as Responsibility. The ambivalence of humanity in Emmanuel Levinas and its significance for theological anthropology , Tübingen-Basel: Francke 1999; Adriaan Peperzak: Some remarks on the relationship between Levinas and Heidegger . In: Annemarie Gethmann-Siefert (ed.): Philosophy and poetry. Otto Pöggeler on his 60th birthday : “Although Levinas, who comes from Lithuania, has adopted French nationality, his name is spelled without an accent. In many German comments, however, he is wrongly French. "
  2. ^ Salomon Malka: Emmanuel Lévinas. Eine Biographie , 2004, p. 65: For Lévinas it remained a “painful memory”.
  3. ^ Bernhard Casper: Emmanuel Levinas and his "Carnets de Captivité" . In: Freiburg circular . Journal for Christian-Jewish Encounters , NF, vol. 22 (2015), pp. 242–251, here p. 243.
  4. Emmanuel Levinas: Carnets de captivité suivi de Ècrits sur la captivité et Notes philosophiques diverses , edited by Rodolphe Calin and Catherine Chalier. Bernard Grasset / IMEC, Paris 2009. There (p. 26) erroneously “Fallingsbottel en Prusse”.
  5. In: The writing and the difference. Translated from the French by Rodolphe Gasché. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1972. See also Jacques Derrida: Adieu. Obituary for Emmanuel Lévinas Hanser, Munich 1999, ISBN 3-446-19649-8 .
  6. Cf. on the subject of more detailed Reinhold Esterbauer: The picture as face. On the experience of God in art in the late Lévinas . In: Josef Wohlmuth (ed.): Emmanuel Lévinas - a challenge for Christian theology . Paderborn u. a. 1999, pp. 13-23. As well as: this: shady modernity. On Lévinas' conception of art . In: Thomas Freyer; Richard Schenk (Ed.): Emmanuel Lévinas - Questions to the modern age . Vienna 1996, pp. 25-49.