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Levinas Studies

Volume 1, 2005

Ze’ev Levy
Pages 19-35

Emmanuel Levinas on Secularization in Modern Society

In his philosophical texts Levinas privileges le dire (“the saying”), which always presupposes the relation to the other, over le dit (“the said”), which transforms the other into an objective entity. Likewise in his analysis of thinking, he does not limit himself to the thought itself but aspires to reach what he characterizes by the word “transcendence.” This is a cardinal concept of his philosophy; it is not restricted to the religious meaning that God and God’s essence are beyond human comprehension, but expresses the true sense of beyond myself. Such is the vocation of ethics, but it can be conceived and understood only through the secularization of “the sacred” (or more exactly, “the sanctified”). The literal meaning of “transcendence” is “beyond” (trans) and “ascend” (scando). In Levinas’s work, this word designates the change of place that is conceived as the ethical passage of the I to the other, or the substitution of myself for the other.

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