chapter  24
6 Pages

Emmanuel Levinas

Emmanuel Levinas (1906-95) was born in Kovno, Lithuania. His parents were devout Jews and part of a distinguished Jewish community. In 1923 he moved to Strasbourg, where he studied philosophy. In 1928-9 he studied phenomenology with Edmund Husserl in Freiburg. It was there that he met Martin Heidegger. Although one of the primary figures in Levinas’ thought, he would later criticize Heidegger for his complicity with Nazism. Levinas’ doctoral thesis was entitled The Theory of Intuition in Husserl’s Phenomenology (1930). Before World War II, Levinas moved to Paris and began teaching at the École Normale Israélite Orientale. In 1935 he published “On Escape” (1935) in Recherches Philosophiques, an essay that evinces his desire to move beyond a discussion of phenomenological being. During the war, Levinas volunteered for the French military, serving as a translator of German and Russian. He was later captured by the Nazis and spent the remainder of the war in a prisoner of war camp. The Nazis captured and murdered many members of his family, including his parents. Fortunately, however, his wife and daughter survived in France. Levinas has described his life as dominated by the memory of exile, Nazi atrocities, and the Holocaust. After the war, he was reunited with his wife and daughter in Paris, where he participated in Talmudic studies with the famous Monsieur Chouchani (who was then also teaching the young Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, another Lithuanian).