University of Sussex
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Re-thinking pathways from ethics to politics with Emmanuel Levinas: how can Levinas' radical re-grounding of ethics contribute to a radical transformation of the political?

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posted on 2023-06-10, 03:50 authored by Josh Lawes
The project of this thesis is to provide a novel reading of the work of Emmanuel Levinas to extract theoretical resources that can help address the numerous crises of the contemporary world. Beginning from the premise that the world is in a state of multiple crises and that current political groups and institutions are failing to find adequate responses, I argue that Levinas’ thought provides radically different, and often unsettling, contributions to these discussions. I first review the areas where Levinas discusses the political and identify key dynamics in his work that can hinder its deployment and contribute to unhelpful readings. Following this with an examination of the secondary literature of this topic, I establish important parameters of the future course of the thesis. Recognising the limitations of Levinas, I nevertheless proceed with the main exposition of the thesis, which aims to extract what is of most value in Levinas’ work, aiming to maximise its utility in challenging the political structures which are currently falling short. The project then circles back to the limitations left unresolved earlier and through the intervention of other thinkers seeks to ameliorate these issues. The main conclusions are as follows: first, Levinas’ work on the political should be read as being torn between commitments to both transcendence and freedom, and a somewhat conservative approach to politics. Second, the most helpful approach is to strongly emphasise the radical and antiauthoritarian elements. Third, that the result of this reading leads to an anti-political position, or at least with a vision of politics so alien it is hardly recognised as such. Finally, while Levinas’ work has issues, particularly around race and colonialism, that cannot be simply resolved, it retains the capacity for compatibility with other thinkers who can address them more adequately.


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