|Panu-Matti Pöykkö, Doctoral student
Ambivalent Ethical Transcendentalism: ethics, recognition and religion in Levinas’ Talmudic commentaries and philosophical writings
My study concentrates on recovering the meaning of religiosity and recognition in the ethical philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas. I will proceed in a twofold manner. First, I attend to the basic notion and general character of Levinas’ ethical philosophy which belongs to the phenomenological and (post)Kantian tradition of transcendental philosophy. I claim that the basic concepts of Levinas’ philosophy are ambivalent in nature. They oscillate between two different registers (the ontological and the ethical). The concept of recognition works in my study as a guiding concept through which one can acquire a clear picture of this ambivalence. It will also become clear that Levinas’ emphasis on the primacy of the ethical register does not amount to a rejective attitude towards the ontological register. Ethical recognition is primary in the sense that it is the transcendental condition of possibility of the ontological recognition.
Second, I aim to elucidate Levinas’ philosophy of religion by paying particular attention to his Talmudic commentaries. It is striking how little attention has been paid to these important texts in studies on Levinas’ philosophy of religion, even though they contain most of what he has written on religion and religious phenomena. The Talmudic commentaries are either simply dismissed or regarded as purely religious reflections on the Jewish tradition and, thus, deemed irrelevant. I claim that they constitute the main sources of his philosophy of religion in which he develops his views on religious language, experience and religiosity in general. They are properly philosophical interpretations of a particular religious tradition and are guided by his own philosophical insights. The same ambivalence and transcendental argumentation are also present in his Talmudic commentaries.