Levinas and the ethical turn: a Nietzschean critique and response
thesisposted on 2021-05-22, 17:23 authored by Ian Thut
The contentious ‘ethical turn’ in continental philosophy motivates this project. Emmanuel Levinas is among the leaders of this movement to draw renewed attention to ethics in the continental tradition. Levinas describes the transcendence that transpires in the self-Other encounter as the source of ethical obligation. However, given Friedrich Nietzsche’s ethical critique, his followers view the category of transcendence with suspicion. They think it presupposes an ontology of unchanging being. Since Nietzsche and his disciples reject ontologies of unchanging being, preferring immanence instead, they think that transcendence inevitably appeals to some imaginary world beyond the one we inhabit. Consequently, they view all philosophers of transcendence as escapist. To assess whether Levinas’ philosophical project is viable, I draw from Nietzsche’s work to mount a Nietzschean critique of Levinas. I subsequently consider a Levinasian reply to the Nietzschean critique, arguing that Levinas’ transcendence provides a compelling alternative to a Nietzschean ethics of immanence.