Proceedings of the XXII World Congress of Philosophy

Volume 45, 2008

Philosophy of Religion

Wonbin Park
Pages 265-269

Subject from Ethic? or Subject from Philosophy?

Emmanuel Levinas (1906-1995), a French Philosopher and a Jew, became known first for his role in the introduction of Husserl’s phenomenology to France, and later for his criticisms of Husserl and Heidegger. As the Holocaust gave a significant impact on many theologians and philosophers to establish their theoretical systems, Levinas realized how ethic of responsibility was important through his personal tragic experience. What most peculiar character of his experience is that it leads him to cast a doubt a subject-oriented modern reason. I will explore the modern subjectivity through the philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas. As Nietzsche mentioned earlier in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, is subject dead? Is it no longer meaningful to discuss the modernity in the postmodern ear? Should the trend of anti-subjectivity in the postmodernity be the only alternative? Those questions are underlain this study. For him, the preeminence of the inviolability of the human being must be regarded as the initial point of departure and final destiny. According to Levinas, philosophy is open to its role of significance only insofar as it describes the ethical situation of the responsible self that precedes the metaphysical subject. A bold assertion against the modern perquisite of theory becomes a signature aphorism of Livinas’ work: “ethics is first philosophy.” For Levinas, ethics is not a question of adjusting one’s adherence to transcendent or historical laws or inner principles. Whereas philosophy traditionally gives priority to inner subjectivity and treats ethics as derivative, Levinas’ philosophy stresses that knowing occurs within and is a result of the intersubjective relation. The subject as hostage to the Other, he writes, “has been neither the experience nor the proof of the infinite, but the witnessing of the infinite.” This subjective condition of the ‘I’ is what Levinas calls the responsible self. This article explores whether Emmanuel Levinas's ethic of the Other can be regarded as a theological discourse. After publishing Totality and Infinity, there have been many serious questions of the relationship between transcendence and immanence; infinity and the finite among many philosophers and theologians. Interestingly enough, Levinas tries to mediate these concepts by his ethic of the Other. I examine how Levinas deals with the tension and difficulty of these two areas in his ethic of the Other. As a French phenomenologist, Jean-Luc Marion already mentioned, this kind of attempt has confronted a double-bind dilemma. One is that it would be a question of phenomena that are objectively definable but lose their religious specialty; and the other is that it would be a question of phenomena that are especially religious but cannot be described objectively. In this sense, Levinas’s ethic of the Other gives us an insight that what philosophy of religion would be. A great deal of information about such great philosophers does not always guarantee sound philosophical reflection. As Levinas’ philosophy was developed in his struggle with Heidegger’s philosophy in the matrix of Husserl’s phenomenology, my philosophical reflection on Levinas’ ethics has to be examined by those who are experts in various philosophical areas. Many members of WCP from all around the world will provide me more mature philosophical thinking, and their advice and expertise will be invaluable. In addition, chances to meet great visiting scholars who will come from all over the world will be also one of the prestigious privileges to articulate my thinking. I look forward to interacting with the great scholars who will visit Seoul National University, and in these interactions, to clarify and better articulate my ideas.