[Buddha-l] Levinas and Buddhism

Eric Nelson esnels at gmail.com
Sat May 28 13:41:06 MDT 2005

On 5/28/05, Richard P. Hayes <rhayes at unm.edu> wrote:
> On Sat, 2005-05-28 at 13:38 -0400, Eric Nelson wrote:
> Philosophical fads always fascinate me. I heard Levinas's name > for the first time about four years ago.

Sorry, Levinas's works began to appear in the 1920's and English
translations began to appear in the 1960's.

> He seems to be quite the rage in
> comparative philosophy and comparative religions circles, 

Perhaps because he shows the ethical core of "religion" and seems
relevant today as a critic of bracketing ethical relations to others
in the name of faith, creed, dogma, mysticism, theodicy, and such.
Some might be interested in his work because he focused on the
priority of the suffering of the other. Wasn't suffering important to
some Buddhists?

> despite the fact (from what I have been told by those who have actually read him)
> that he was a deeply parochial man with almost no interest in 
> anything outside a fairly narrow interpretation of Judaism.

it is true that he had no interest in comparative philosophy, however
he does offer a different and substantive way of thinking about
ethics. A good place to start is The Cambridge Companion to Levinas.
Hilary Putnam's chapter Levinas and Judaism helpfully places Levinas
in the context of Jewish dialogical philosophy (Rosenzweig, Buber) and
shows that what Levinas means by religion, God, monotheism, etc, is
different than what most people (and this includes you) expect these
words should mean. For example, Levinas defines monotheism as an
atheistic break with religious participation and the achievement a
purely ethical relation or responsiveness to concrete others,
especially in their suffering. This occurs prior to all faith, creed,
myth, mysticism, theology, and calculation of divine and earthly
rewards and punishments. Perhaps Buddhist ethics is more monotheistic
(given this account) than most if not all Christian ethics.

I hope this helps a little, Eric

> --
> Richard Hayes
> Department of Philosophy
> University of New Mexico

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