Metaphysics, War And The Critique Of The Conatus Essendi In Emmanuel Levinas

Restricted (Penn State Only)
Hasan, Aminah Amatullah
Graduate Program:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
June 10, 2016
Committee Members:
  • Robert Lambert Bernasconi, Dissertation Advisor
  • Robert Lambert Bernasconi, Committee Chair
  • Leonard Richard Lawlor, Committee Member
  • Emily Rolfe Grosholz, Committee Member
  • Benjamin Jared Schreier, Outside Member
  • Levinas
  • french philosophy
  • phenomenology
  • early modern
  • 20th century philosophy
  • 17th century philosohphy
  • spinoza
  • Heidegger
  • metaphysics
  • ethics
  • politics
  • war
  • peace
  • conatus
  • philosophy
  • 17th/18th century philosophy
This dissertation concerns Emmanuel Levinas’ critique of the conatus essendi. I will argue that Levinas’ critique of the conatus is indispensable to understanding his engagement with Western metaphysics and its relation to the subject of war. The problem of war is not defined by the actual violence of war but by the ways in which we are conditioned for war and are consequently susceptible to mobilization. According to Levinas, the susceptibility to war or mobilization is the direct result of thought or thinking of being in general. I contend that the connection of thought to war is articulated in his critique of the idea of the conatus. The conatus is the tendency towards self-preservation and for Levinas it represents the positing of being as war or a struggle-to-be. However, the relation between the conatus, metaphysics, and war is absent from many interpretations of Levinas. This is because Levinas is best known for his ethics. The ethics of responsibility or the face-to-face and the ethics that will develop later in his account of substitution overshadow his work as a whole. The overemphasis on his ethics often results in the under-examination of his metaphysics and political thought, specifically his revision to the ways in which we think of both together. I contend that although the present analysis does not directly take on the question of the ethical in Levinas’ work, the introduction of the critique of the conatus deepens the role of ethics within his metaphysics. This, as I will demonstrate, is due to that fact that Levinas’ engagement with the idea of the conatus is not just that of critique but also of revision. Levinas’ notion of the conatus existendi, which is found in his late works, reverses the meaning and utility of the idea of the conatus in the history of philosophy and its bearing on how we conceive of the body, time, and existence.