Levinas's Humanism of the Other

Jens Zimmermann

in Humanism and Religion

Published in print January 2012 | ISBN: 9780199697755
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191738159 | DOI:
Levinas's Humanism of the Other

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This chapter presents Levinas's ethical philosophy, or his ‘Humanism of the Other’, as a rejection of any postmodern anti-humanisms, and as the conscious effort to counteract Heidegger's definition of human dignity as the ‘Shepherd of Being’. From within the phenomenological tradition, Levinas grounds the phenomenon of the human (subjectivity, dignity, language, desire etc.) beyond ontology and consciousness in the personal, transcendent ethical demand of another human being as the imperative ‘Thou shalt not kill’, which defines being human as concern for others. Levinas is important for the recovery of humanism as a cultural ethos because he argues for a redefinition of reason and philosophy in ethical terms, but without the incarnation as the basis for mediating the transcendent through the material, he ends up with a rather legalistic demand for which ontological structures such as language, literature, and art become possible idols that distort the ethical. The high cost for Levinas's important emphasis on ethics is the unity of ontology and transcendence, and, in contrast to earlier humanisms, the consequent suspicion of language, art, and literature as true expressions of humanity.

Keywords: ontology; ethics; humanism; art; phenomenology; Heidegger; language; interpretation; Judaism

Chapter.  14588 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy of Religion

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