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Transcendence, Morality, and History: Emmanuel Levinas and the Discovery of Søren Kierkegaard in France

Authors
Disciplines
  • Philosophy
  • Psychology

Abstract

<xref ref-type="transliteration" rid="trans1" ptype="t3182503" citart="citart1">Transcendence, Morality, and History: Emmanuel Levinas and the Discovery of Søren Kierkegaard in France</xref> SAMUEL MOYN Transcendence, Morality, and History: Emmanuel Levinas and the Discovery of Soren Kierkegaard in France [I]n France he is all but unknown... [yet] Kierkegaard's ideas are fated to play a great role in the spiritual development of mankind. It is true that this role is of a special kind. He will hardly be accepted among the classics of philosophy . .. but his thought will find a place, unseen, in the hearts of men. -Lev Shestovl When she asked why I had chosen Kierkegaard as an object of study and I replied that I did not know, Rachel Bespaloff said: "But don't you realize? It is because you are a Jew." -Jean Wahl2 INTRODUCTION To judge from his postwar essays on the subject, Emmanuel Levinas re- jected the founder of existentialism with no little irritation. Where Soren Kierkegaard interpreted Isaac's binding, in Fear and Trembling, as a parable about the role of faith in taking the self beyond the merely ethical stage, Levinas suggested that it is not Abraham's hand, ready to bring the knife to his son's throat, but instead "Abraham's ear for hear- ing the voice" that best captures the intent of the biblical story. It "brought him back to the ethical order." As Levinas explained it: "That [Abraham] obeyed the first voice is astonishing: that he had sufficient 1. Lev Shestov, Kierkegaard et la philosophie existentielle (Vox clamantis in de- serto) (Paris: Vrin, 1936), 35-36. Throughout this article, all translations are my own, un- less indicated otherwise. 2. Jean Wahl, "Discours de cl6ture," in Eliane Amado-Valensi and Jean Halperin, eds., La conscience juive. Donnees et debats: Textes des trois premiers Colloques d'in- tellectuels juifs de langue francaise organises par la Section francaise du Congres juif mondial (Paris: Presses Universitaires d

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