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Levinas and the Crisis of Humanism

Levinas and the Crisis of Humanism

Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Indiana University Press
Pages: 246
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  • Book Info
    Levinas and the Crisis of Humanism
    Book Description:

    Reexamining Emmanuel Levinas's essays on Jewish education, Claire Elise Katz provides new insights into the importance of education and its potential to transform a democratic society, for Levinas's larger philosophical project. Katz examines Levinas's "Crisis of Humanism," which motivated his effort to describe a new ethical subject. Taking into account his multiple influences on social science and the humanities, and his various identities as a Jewish thinker, philosopher, and educator, Katz delves deeply into Levinas's works to understand the grounding of this ethical subject.

    eISBN: 978-0-253-00767-4
    Subjects: Philosophy, Education
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. ix-x)
  3. Preface (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. Acknowledgments (pp. xv-xviii)
  5. List of Abbreviations (pp. xix-xxiv)
  6. Introduction (pp. 1-17)

    Responding to the atrocities of the Holocaust, the critical theorist Theodor Adorno declares in a 1966 radio interview that “the premier demand upon all education is that Auschwitz not happen again.”¹ A provocative statement, it is also revealing. His directive connects him to Emmanuel Levinas insofar as each presents education as that which will—and must—mitigate the possibility of evil that surrounds us. In so doing it also betrays the spectacular failure of education to humanize us in spite of its promise to do so. The aim of this book is to trace Levinas’s philosophical project, which describes a...

  7. 1 The Limits of the Humanities (pp. 18-39)

    In his bookThe Last Professors: The Corporate University and the Fate of the Humanities,Frank Donoghue, an English professor at The Ohio State University, traces the roots of the corporate model of education back to the turn of the twentieth century, the rise of industrialization, and the increased power attained by those with wealth. It was not long before the newly moneyed were exerting power and influence over university education, while simultaneously expressing their suspicion of the very education they were funding. As Donoghue’s analysis shows, education that did not aim to produce anything—that is, humanities education—was...

  8. 2 Solitary Men (pp. 40-57)

    “No one is more self-sufficient than Rousseau,” Levinas proclaims in his 1935 book,On Escape,a statement that could be easily dismissed as a passing swipe at the eighteenth-century thinker.¹ No doubt, Levinas would have ambivalent feelings about Rousseau, whose philosophy is often cited as influential in the French Revolution and the development of the French Republic. Yet, Levinas’s stab at Rousseau’s emphasis on self-sufficiency is not simply a throwaway line; self-sufficiency lies at the heart of a humanism that would develop out of modernity and to which Levinas offers a sustained response. In short, “self-sufficiency” sums up everything that...

  9. 3 The Crisis of Humanism (pp. 58-79)

    In his 1933 essay “Biblical Humanism,” Martin Buber outlines the distinction between Western humanism and what he calls biblical humanism.¹ Similar to the kind of argument that we will see Levinas make, Buber argues that just as Western humanism has drawn from its respective literary sources, so too should Judaism draw from the sources that inform it, thus leading to a humanism that would be distinctly biblical. He maintains that there is a difference between a Hebrew man and a biblical man where “only a man worthy of the Bible is a Hebrew man.”² He continues, “Only that man is...

  10. 4 Before Phenomenology (pp. 80-103)

    “How does one become the kind of ethical subject Levinas describes?” This question typically emerges in response to discussions about Levinas’s ethical project. In other words, the discussion frequently shifts from the description of the ethical subject to the question of origin: Is Levinas simply describing an ethical subjectivity that already exists or is he describing a subjectivity that is “not yet”? Implicit in these questions is an underlying concern that there is a normative dimension to this ethical subject. And of course, one response to this type of question is simply to say that it is the wrong question...

  11. 5 The Promise of Jewish Education (pp. 104-124)

    In his biography of Emmanuel Levinas, Salomon Malka opens the chapter on Levinas’s years as the director of École Normale Israélite Orientale (ENIO) with the following quote:

    After Auschwitz, I had the impression that in taking on the directorship of the École Normale Israélite Orientale I was responding to a historical calling. It was my little secret … Probably the naïveté of a young man. I am still mindful and proud of it today.¹

    His confession echoes Theodor Adorno’s warning twenty years earlier in his 1966 radio interview published as “Education after Auschwitz.” Responding to the atrocities of the Holocaust,...

  12. 6 Teaching, Fecundity, Responsibility (pp. 125-149)

    Emmanuel Levinas returned to Paris immediately following the murderous years of World War II, during which he served as an interpreter before his unit was captured. He then spent the duration of the war, 1940–1945, first in Frontstalags in Rennes and Laval, then at Vesoul, and from June 1942 until May 1945 at Stalag 11B at Fallingbostel near Magdeburg in Germany.³ Upon his return and without delay, he went to work for the Alliance Israélite Universelle (AIU) and in 1947 became the director of the École Normale Israélite Orientale (ENIO). At the event celebrating the occasion of Levinas’s eightieth...

  13. 7 Humanism Found (pp. 150-168)

    This book has argued that Levinas’s writings on Jewish education help us understand his fundamental concerns motivating his ethical project. He witnessed a crisis of humanism for which a new subjectivity was required. His philosophical writings argue for this new subjectivity, but the question of how this subjectivity can develop begs for an answer. His writings on Jewish education provide some direction. Yet as they guide us in answering this question, other questions emerge. The most obvious is to ask what his argument means for the non-Jewish community. How does the solution that Levinas offers to the Jewish community translate...

  14. Notes (pp. 169-208)
  15. Bibliography (pp. 209-216)
  16. Index (pp. 217-221)
  17. Back Matter (pp. 222-222)