Scholars from around the world travelled to Buffalo and engaged in a week-long intense discussion of the philosophies of Emmanuel Levinas and Immanuel Kant, their similarities and differences especially regarding the primacy of ethics. In addition to classroom lectures and discussions, informal conversations and socializing included group lunches on campus, an opening BBQ at Ellicott Creek Park on Monday evening, a Wednesday afternoon visit to Niagara Falls, including a ride on the Maid of the Mist and dinner at Top of the Falls Restaurant on Goat Island, and a concluding Friday Happy Hour and dinner at a local Buffalo restaurant on Maple Ave.
Richard A. Cohen, Professor of Philosophy, Chair of the Department of Jewish Thought, University at Buffalo, Buffalo, New York. Professor Cohen is one of the world’s preeminent Levinas scholars, author of several books on Levinas, the most recent of which is "Out of Control: Confrontations between Spinoza and Levinas" (2016), translator into English of four books by Levinas, and author of numerous articles in modern and contemporary continental philosophy.
The Levinas Center; Institute of Jewish Thought and Heritage (including a donation from Florence Edlin); Humanities Institute, University at Buffalo, Buffalo, NY
University at Buffalo
640 Clemens Hall
Buffalo, New York 14260
Both Emmanuel Levinas and Immanuel Kant assert the primacy of ethics. At the same time, both see this primacy as supporting rather than undermining science. Indeed, for Levinas ethics provides the very justification of truth. Nevertheless, despite their proximity, these two thinkers are as far apart as classical and contemporary philosophy. The critical idealism of Kant concludes and culminates the grand project of representational philosophy – the primacy of knowledge – which began with Parmenides’ equation of being and logos. In the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant shows the grounds and the boundaries of natural science and metaphysics. Building on these analyses, in the Critique of Practical Reason, he shows the grounds and boundaries of rational ethics. Post-Kantian thought from Schelling to Nietzsche to Heidegger, from Romanticism to Expressionism to Dadaism, breaks with Kantian objective rationality by shifting to creative imagination. Levinas opens up a radically different post-Kantian path: renewing the primacy of ethics Kant proclaimed by liberating it from its Kantian dependence on objectivist rationality. For Levinas neither science nor aesthetics but rather “ethics is first philosophy.” Only in this revolutionary ethical reorientation of philosophy do science and aesthetics for the first time find their proper significance. Thus Levinas does not reject ethics in a positivist or pretentious “beyond good and evil.” But this is because ethics begins not in respect for law, not in autonomy, not in pure freedom, but rather in responsiveness to the suffering of the other person. Moral responsibility emerges in and as the primacy of the other, the other’s transcendence as ethical obligation. To better understand what is new in Levinas’s thought this seminar will compare and contrast it to Kant, and especially to the Kantian “primacy of practical reason.” We will enter into a dialogue between Levinas and Kant based on the idea that though these two thinkers are radically separated by the divide between classical representational philosophies oriented by eternity, the soul and divinity, and contemporary philosophies which takes seriously time, history, language, the body and worldly being, that these two thinkers are in special and fruitful proximity across this divide.
ASSISTING LEVINAS SCHOLARS: