Emmanuel Lévinas , originally Emanuelis Lévinas

Lévinas , originally Emanuelis Lévinas

Lithuanian-born French Philosopher, Ontologist, Ethicist and Talmudic Commentator

Author Quotes

It is not by chance that Plato teaches us that matter is eternal, and that for Aristotle matter is a cause; such is the truth for the order of things. Western philosophy, which perhaps is reification itself, remains faithful to the order of things and does not know the absolute passivity, beneath the level of activity and passivity, which is contributed by the idea of creation.

The idea of infinity… is an overflowing of… new powers to the soul…- powers of welcome, of gift, of full hands, of hospitality.

To become conscious of a being is then always for that being to be grasped across an ideality and on the basis of a said. Eyen an empirical, individual being is broached across the ideality of logos. Subjectivity qua consciousness can thus be interpreted as the articulation of an ontological event, as one of the mysterious ways in which its 'act of being' is deployed.

It is the very transcending characteristic of this beyond that is signification. Signification is the contradictory trope of the-one-for-the-other. The-one-for-the-other is not a lack of intuition, but the surplus of responsibility. My responsibility for the other is the for of the relationship, the very signifyingness of signification, which signifies in saying before showing itself in the said.

The light that permits encountering something other than the self, makes it encountered as if this thing came from the ego. The light, brightness, is intelligibility itself; making everything come from me, it reduces every experience to an element of reminiscence. Reason is alone. And in this sense knowledge never encounters anything truly other in the world. This is the profound truth of idealism. It betokens a radical differ­ence between spatial exteriority and the exteriority of instants in relation to one another. In the concreteness of need, the space that keeps us away from ourselves is always to be conquered. One must cross it and take hold of an object – that is, one must work with one’s hands. In this sense, ‘the one who works not, eats not’ is an analytic proposition. Tools and the manufacture of tools pursue the chimerical ideal of the suppression of distances. In the perspec­tive that opens upon the tool, beginning with the modern tool – the machine – one is much more struck by its function which consists in suppressing work, than by its instrumental function, which Heidegger exclusively considered. In work – meaning, in effort, in its pain and sorrow – the subject finds the weight of the existence which involves its existent freedom itself. Pain and sorrow are the phenomena to which the solitude of the existent is finally reduced.

To deny the totality of being is for consciousness to plunge into a kind of darkness, where it would at least remain as an operation, as the consciousness of that darkness. Total negation then would be impossible, and the concept of nothingness illusory.

Just when everything is lost, everything is possible.

The moral consciousness can sustain the mocking gaze of the political man only if the certitude of peace dominates the evidence of war. Such a certitude is not obtained by a simple play of antitheses. The peace of empires issued from war rests on war. It does not restore to the alienated beings their lost identity. For that a primordial and original relation with being is needed.

To ignore the true God is in fact only half an evil; atheism is worth more than the piety bestowed on mythical gods.

Love is not a possibility, not due to our initiative, without reason, invades us and hurts us, and yet the self survives him. A phenomenology of pleasure-the pleasure not a pleasure either, because there is a solitary pleasure as eating or drinking-, seems to confirm our views on the role and place exceptional represented by the feminine, and the absence of any merger in eroticism.

The oneself does not rest in peace under its identity, and yet its restlessness is not a dialectical scission, nor a process equalizing difference. Its unity is not just added on to some content of ipseity, like the indefinite article which substantifies even verbs, 'nominalizing' and thematizing them. Here the unity precedes every article and every process; it is somehow itself the content.

To kill, like to die, is to seek an escape from being, to go where freedom and negation operate. Horror is the event of being which returns in the heart of this negation, as though nothing had happened.

Love remains a relation with the Other that turns into need, transcendent exteriority of the other, of the beloved. But love goes beyond the beloved... The possibility of the Other appearing as an object of a need while retaining his alterity, or again, the possibility of enjoying the Other... this simultaneity of need and desire, or concupiscence and transcendence... constitutes the originality of the erotic which, in this sense, is the equivocal par excellence.

The relation with the other will always be offering and gift, never an approach with ‘empty hands’.

We could formulate the result of our analyses in the following way: the existence of material things contains in itself a nothingness, a possibility of not-being. This does not mean that things do not exist but that their mode of existing contains precisely the possible negation of itself.

Nothing responds to us, but this silence; the voice of this silence is understood and frightens like the silence of those infinite spaces Pascal speaks of.

The sensible qualities of the sacred are incommensurable with the emotional power it emits and with the very nature of this emotion, but their function as bearers of 'collective representations' accounts for this disproportion and inadequateness.

What exists for us, what we consider as existing is not a reality hidden behind phenomena that appear as images or signs of this reality. The world of phenomena it-self makes up the being of our concrete life.

Obsession is irreducible to consciousness, even if it overwhelms it. In consciousness it is betrayed, but thematized by a said in which it is manifested. Obsession traverses consciousness counter-current-wise, is inscribed in consciousness as something foreign, a disequilibrium, a delirium.

The sentence in which God comes to be involved in words is not ‘I believe in God’… It is the ‘here I am’ said to the neighbor to whom I am given over, and in which I announce peace, that is, my responsibility for the other.

When the forms of things are dissolved in the night, the darkness of the night, which is neither an object nor the quality of an object, invades like a presence. In the night, where we are driven to it, we are not dealing with anything. But this nothing is not that of pure nothingness.

Otherwise than Being. It is a matter of stating the breaking apart of a destiny that reigns in essence whose fragments and modalities—despite their diversity—belong the ones to the others, that is…do not escape Order, as though the ends of the thread cut by the Parque were tied up again after being cut. It is a matter of thinking the possibility of being torn out of essence. To go where? To go into what region? To stand on what ontological plane? But to be torn out of essence contests the unconditional privilege of the question: where?…[This is a] uniqueness for which the out-of-self, the difference relative to self, is non-indifference itself in the extra-ordinary recurrence of the pronominal.

The small goodness from one person to his fellowman is lost and deformed as soon as it seeks organization and universality and system, as soon as it opts for doctrine, a treatise of politics and theology, a party, a state, and even a church. Yet it remains the sole refuge of the good in being. Unbeaten, it undergoes the violence of evil, which, as small goodness, it can neither vanquish nor drive out. A little kindness going only from man to man, not crossing distances to get to the places where events and forces unfold! A remarkable utopia of the good or the secret of its beyond.

While in moral pain one can preserve an attitude of dignity and compunction , and consequently already be free; physical suffering in all its degrees entails the impossibility of detaching oneself from the instant of existence. It is the very irremissibility of being.

Reason is alone. And in this sense knowledge never encounters anything truly other in the world. This is the profound truth of idealism. It betokens a radical difference between spatial exteriority and the exteriority of instants in relation to one another.

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Lévinas , originally Emanuelis Lévinas
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Lithuanian-born French Philosopher, Ontologist, Ethicist and Talmudic Commentator