IDENTITY, FECUNDITY, SUBSTITUTION: DEVELOPING JUSTICE THROUGH LEVINAS' ETHICS

Open Access
Author:
Giannopoulos, Peter John
Graduate Program:
Philosophy
Degree:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Dissertation
Date of Defense:
April 26, 2017
Committee Members:
  • Robert Lambert Bernasconi, Dissertation Advisor
  • Robert Lambert Bernasconi, Committee Chair
  • Leonard Richard Lawlor, Committee Member
  • Brady Lee Bowman, Committee Member
  • Allan Stoekl, Outside Member
Keywords:
  • Emmanuel Levinas
  • Jacques Derrida
  • Edmund Husserl
  • Martin Heidegger
  • Levinas
  • Derrida
  • Husserl
  • Heidegger
  • Phenomenology
  • Ethics
  • Personal Identity
  • Identity
  • Fecundity
  • Substitution
  • Closure
  • Double Reading
  • Differance
  • Trace
  • Infinity
  • Justice
  • Racism
  • Hitlerism
  • Ipseity
  • Self
  • Proximity
  • Subjectivity
  • Subject
  • Selfhood
Abstract:
My primary thesis is that Levinas’ central question is: Who must I be in order to be for another? He poses it as a challenge to both egoism and altruism. If egoism motivates my response to another in need, then I never really depart from concern for my being. By contrast, altruism threatens the loss of my identity if it means the outright denial of myself for another. If I seek to maintain some sense of myself through my altruism, it is far from clear how I can motivate a denial of myself without at once affirming myself. Thus altruism does not resolve the problem raised by egoism but simply affirms my egoism. Egoism and altruism, then, are only apparently alternatives. They are built on the same model of personal identity, in which what the I gives to another returns to it. Such an economic exchange never departs from concern for my being. Levinas proposes in its place an account of identity in which the self is for another. That this is Levinas’ central concern becomes clear in his second major work, Otherwise than Being, which is largely neglected by commentators who tend to confine themselves to his first, Totality and Infinity. One major consequence of my approach is that it establishes the basis on which Levinas breaks from a symmetrical account of justice in which all must be treated equally. That account maintains a model of identity built on self-reference and return to self, not self for another. Levinas’ notion of justice preserves the ethical asymmetry he sees in the ethical relation. Two pillars frame my reading. First is Levinas’ engagement with anti-Semitic racism. Many commentators have neglected his early critique of the failed political responses of liberalism and Marxist communitarianism to Hitlerism and racial eugenics. From these critiques identity emerges as the problem and key that drives his ethics. I show how Levinas further refines his account of identity with Husserl’s transcendental subjectivity and Heidegger’s Dasein in mind. Second is Derrida’s reading of Levinas’ thought. His “Violence and Metaphysics” (1964) presents Levinas with certain philosophical challenges, which I read and explain through Husserl’s phenomenology. This in part drives a change in Levinas’ ethical language, argument, and exposition from his first to his second major work. Part of my challenge to commentators is that I place the largely ignored Otherwise than Being into dialogue with Totality and Infinity by showing how the former responds to Derrida. The task is to show how Levinas retrieves his earlier concerns about racism and identity and adapts them to reply to Derrida in Otherwise than Being.