Levinas : subjectivity, affectivity and desire

Wilde, Anthony Edward

July 2013

Thesis or dissertation

© 2013 Anthony Edward Wilde. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

The thesis argues that Emmanuel Levinas’s later concept of ethical subjectivity, explicated in his late work Otherwise than Being or Beyond Essence, can really only be understood by taking into account the very early work On Escape. The thesis argues that the concept of ethical subjectivity emerges from his work via his attempts to articulate transcendence. Transcendence itself is ultimately identified with ethics. My thesis traces his continued attempts at a satisfactory conception of transcendence through the early works (Existence and Existents and Time and the Other), and via his other major work Totality and Infinity.

On Escape articulates a very specific notion of need in terms of a need for escape which forms the conceptual seeds of Levinas’s idea of transcendence, and which will ultimately become his notion of metaphysical Desire. His notion of ethics as the arresting of the spontaneous ego’s conatus by the face of the Other, will turn out to ultimately requires the articulation of ethical subjectivity. The notion of ethical subjectivity is made possible, and thus his work reaches maturity, by the introduction of the notion of the trace. I argue that the idea of subjectivity as openness and vulnerability and the notion of an otherwise than being can be traced to the early work.

My thesis takes as its starting point Levinas’s engagement and criticism of the philosophy of Martin Heidegger. I argue that Levinas can best be understood as always in some sense in conversation with Heidegger.

Department of Philosophy, The University of Hull
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