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Levinas Studies

Volume 2, 2007

Michael Juffé
Pages 153-173

Levinas as (mis)Reader of Spinoza

In a certain respect, one can say that Emmanuel Levinas’s ethics, as asserted mainly in Totality and Infinity and Otherwise than Being, but also partially in Existence and Existents and Time and the Other, constitutes a rebuttal of Benedict de Spinoza’s Ethics. Levinas offers a succinct account of his thinking on this issue in Totality and Infinity, at the end of a section called “Separation and the Absolute,” which concludes the first part of the book “The Self and the Other”: “Thought and freedom come to us from separation from the consideration of the Other — this thesis is at the antipodes of Spinozism” (TI 105). In all likelihood, what has provoked him at such a moment would have to be Spinoza’s pretense to reach the infinite by means of understanding, while for him, Levinas, the essence of created existence consists in its separation from the Infinite (in other words, as especially his later philosophy begins to make clear, from “God”). Let us nonetheless begin with the question itself: Why this intolerance toward Spinoza?

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