Profligacy, Parsimony, and the Ethics of Expenditure in the Philosophy of Levinas

Edith Wyschogrod

in The Exorbitant

Published by Fordham University Press

Published in print January 2009 | ISBN: 9780823230150
Published online March 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780823235711 | DOI:

Series: Perspectives in Continental Philosophy

Profligacy, Parsimony, and the Ethics of Expenditure in the             Philosophy of Levinas

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This chapter begins by taking into account alternative views of the ethical subject in Levinas's thought by turning first to its emergence following the coming into being of an autonomous self, depicted principally in the opening sections of Totality and Infinity; and next to its meaning in the context of time and language, as described in his essay “Substitution.” This view is further developed in his major work Otherwise than Being, or Beyond Essence. The chapter then considers the works of Marcel Mauss and Georges Bataille as they bear upon the relation of the individual subject to an economy of the sacred, a self that will be shown to bear striking affinities with the pre-ethical self of Levinas. Finally, it recasts the radical self-giving of Levinas's ethical subject in terms of prodigality and parsimony as they are framed in the conceptual language of classical economics in order to examine some outcomes of unfettered profligacy. The goal is to reconfigure Levinas's ethical subject as one who not only gives but who also stores, not in order to keep but in order to bestow.

Keywords: Emmanuel Levinas; ethics; giving; self-giving; Totality and Infinity; Substitution; Marcel Mauss; Georges Bataille

Chapter.  7928 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy of Religion

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