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.
Levinas Philosophy Summer Seminars:
The Levinas Philosophy Summer Seminar is an annual one-week long summer seminar of research and discussion. The inaugural LPSS was held in July, 2013, in Vilnius, Lithuania, birth country of Levinas. The second LPSS is scheduled for July 7-11, 2014, in Buffalo, New York. LPSS will meet in 708 Clemens Hall, University at Buffalo (SUNY), Buffalo, New York 14260. Each summer the intellectual focus is on a different aspect of Levinas’s philosophy. In 2014 it will be the “primacy of ethics” considered in the encounter of Levinas and Kant. The seminar is composed of ten invited scholars – graduate students, post-doctoral students and professors - selected from applicants from around the world. It is directed by Professor Richard A. Cohen (University at Buffalo), assisted by two additional professors, in 2014: Professor James McLachlan (Western Carolina University) and a 2nd professor to be announced.
To apply: Application consists of (1) a cover letter by applicant explaining his or her intellectual interests, scholarly qualifications and seminar goals, and indication of financial need; accompanied by (2) a curriculum vitae. Send these as email attachments to: firstname.lastname@example.org . Applications are accepted from the present time until May 15; however acceptance of applicants beginning April 15 so early application is encouraged. Seminar is for doctoral students, post-doctoral students and university faculty (active or retired); philosophy or related disciplines desired.
Transportation, food and lodging costs are the responsibility of participants. Advice on Buffalo housing will be provided. A limited amount of scholarship money, up to $500, is available on the basis of need; please indicate in application letter what costs, if any, your university is covering, and financial need. For additional information please contact co-organizer, Dr. Jolanta Saldukaityte ( email@example.com ).
Schedule of the Seminar:
July 7, 8, 10, 11, Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday: 708 Clemens Hall, University at Buffalo
Mornings: 10:00am to 12:30pm: lecture by Richard A. Cohen and/or invited Professor; discussion afterwards.
Group Lunch: 12:30pm to 1:30pm
Afternoons: 1:30pm to 5:00pm: “explication de texte” by participants; discussion afterwards
July 9, Wednesday:
Group trip to Niagara Falls, USA and Canada; group lunch at Niagara Falls.
July 8, 10, Tuesday, Thursday: Group Dinner at local restaurant in Buffalo
The seminar participants will prepare by reading selected readings from Levinas’s two major works, Totality and Infinity (1961) and Otherwise than Being or Beyond Essence (1974), as well as selected articles or portions of articles related to the Levinas-Kant encounter.
Richard A Cohen is a world-wide recognized Levinas scholar. He is author of three books on Levinas: Elevations: The Height of the Good in Rosenzweig and Levinas (Chicago, 1994); Ethics, Exegesis and Philosophy (Cambridge 2001); and Levinasian Meditations: Ethics, Philosophy, and Religion (Pittsburgh, 2010). He is also English translator and/or editor of four of Levinas’s books (Time and the Other and Additional Essays;Ethics and Infinity; Discovering Existence with Husserl; New Talmudic Readings); editor of Face to Face with Levinas (Pittsburgh, 1986); co-editor of In Proximity: Emmanuel Levinas and the Eighteenth Century (Lubbock, 2001); and author of many articles on Levinas and modern and contemporary philosophy. He is Professor of Philosophy, acting Gordon and Gretchen Gross Professor of Jewish Studies, and Director of the Institute of Jewish Thought and Heritage, at the University at Buffalo (SUNY), and Director of the Levinas Center.
The Levinas Philosophy Summer Seminar is organized by Professor Richard A. Cohen (University at Buffalo) and Dr. Jolanta Saldukaityte; and sponsored by: The Levinas Center; Institute of Jewish Thought and Heritage; Humanities Institute, University, University at Buffalo (SUNY), Buffalo, New York, USA.
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