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Summary Article: Levinas, Emmanuel
from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

Lithuanian-born French philosopher. He studied with the German philosophers Martin Heidegger and Edmund Husserl, and helped to introduce phenomenology into France in the 1930s, with his translation of Husserl's Cartesian Meditations (1931). In his major work, Totality and Infinity: An Essay on Exteriority (1961), he argues that our experience of the ‘face-to-face’ relation with the Other precedes our comprehension of Being, and that ‘ethics’ is therefore a more fundamental philosophical concern than ontology. His other works include Existence and Existants (1947), Time and the Other (1947), and Otherwise Than Being or beyond Essence (1974).

Levinas was born in Kaunas, Lithuania, and as a young man studied Hebrew and the Bible, as well as Shakespeare and Russian literature. He emigrated to the Ukraine with his family during World War I, and in 1923 went to France to study philosophy at the University of Strasbourg. After continuing his studies at Freiburg University in Germany, he became a French citizen in 1930, and, at the outbreak of World War II, joined the French Army. He was captured in 1940 and spent most of the war in a concentration camp in Germany, where he wrote the greater part of From Existence to Existants.

After World War II Levinas returned to France and in 1946–47 gave a series of lectures at the Collège Philosophique in Paris, which were subsequently published as Time and the Other. In this book, as in many others, he attempted to think ‘otherwise’ than Heidegger, and, in particular, argued that our experience of time is dependent upon our relation to the Other person. In later years, he lectured at a number of universities, including the University of Nanterre and the Sorbonne in Paris, and also published a series of readings of the Talmud, including Four Talmudic Readings (1968); Beyond the Verse (1982); and In the Hour of Nations (1988).

His other published works include The Theory of Intuition in Husserl's Phenomenology (1930); Discovering Existence with Husserl and Heidegger (1949); Difficult Freedom (1963), a book of essays on Judaism; and two books on literature, entitled On Maurice Blanchot and Proper Names (both 1975).

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