The Non-Existent God: Transcendence, Humanity, and Ethics in the Philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas

Philosophia 35 (3-4):375 - 382 (2007)
Abstract
This paper considers three essential gestures in Levinas’s theology, highlighting in each case how Levinas’s thinking allows him to either incorporate or sidestep some of the fiercest modern criticisms of traditional theism. First, we present Levinas’s vision of divine transcendence, outlining his ontological atheism and explaining how this obviates proving the existence of God and avoids the tangles of traditional theodicy. Second, we describe Levinas’s idea of the trace, showing how a nonexistent God still leaves its mark in the face of the other person and explaining how this vision of divine immanence accords with the agendas of thinkers such as Feuerbach and Nietzsche, who criticized theology that elevated God while debasing humanity. Third, we present Levinas’s insistence on the philosophical primacy of ethics, showing how he infuses his ethical philosophy with religious themes, elevating moral philosophy to the level of ultimate concern in a way that even atheist social theoris
Keywords Levinas  God  Ethics  Religion  Phenomenology  Transcendence  Hermeneutics of suspicion  Theology
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