Colloquium: Levinas’ ethics and the demand of politics, Tampere

Levinas’ ethics and the demand of politics

Colloquium in honour of the 50th anniversary of Emmanuel Levinas’ magnum opus Totalité et infini. Languages: English and Finnish. Organised by the discipline of Philosophy of the School of Social Sciences and Humanities of the University of Tampere.

28th of October, 2011, Venue PinniB 1097 (

This year is the 50th anniversary of Emmanuel Levinas’ magnum opus Totalité et infini. Essai sur extériorité (Totality and infinity: Essay on exteriority). The book is one of the essential classics of the 20th century. In it, Levinas confronts philosophy with the terrifying experience of war, and against this background he draws the outline of the first phenomenological ethics, developped by means of an existential phenomenology.

Totalité et infini has been an extremely influential book, because it formulates most radically the idea that the measure of humanity is an infinite responsibility of the other human being. Although this main idea is generally held to be very impressive, the book has also risen several important debates concerning the task of philosophical ethics. Levinas’ way of grounding ethics on intimate experience has made feminist philosophers ask whether Levinas’ explicitely masculine point of view is a force or a weakness. Furthermore, Levinas’ demand of an infinite responsibility of the other has not been understood only as the foundation of personal ethics, but also as a question adressed to the 20th century political theories (like marxism and liberalism) that seem to be incompatible with such an ethics. On the other hand Levinas has also been said to underestimate politics (e.g. Jacques Derrida, Adieu à Emmanuel Levinas, Alain Badiou, L’éthique: essai sur la conscience du mal). This is why we ask: what is Levinas’ ethics? To what extent does Levinas’ ethics challenge politics, to what extent does it is on the contrary challenged by politics?

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