[Buddha-l] Levinas and Buddhism

Richard P. Hayes rhayes at unm.edu
Sat May 28 16:44:37 MDT 2005

On Sat, 2005-05-28 at 15:41 -0400, Eric Nelson wrote:

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

Yes, I am aware of that. All the more surprising that I had not heard of
him until recently. Perhaps I was just hanging out with people who did
not read him. It is obvious I am no longer hanging out with such people.
At a recent meeting of our chapter of Phi Sigma Tau, all the students in
the society were asked to say why they had decided to major in
philosophy. As I recall, every single one of them mentioned Levinas as a
source of major inspiration. (Also mentioned by almost everyone were
Nietzsche, Husserl, Heidegger, Lyotard and Lacan.) All these fellows,
but especially Levinas, clearly had something to say that speaks
strongly to the condition of the current batch of philosophy honors

Equally interesting to me is the fact that not one of the honors
students mentioned the philosophers who got my generation fired up to
study philosophy. As the great Jewish philospher Robert Zimmerman said,
before he became a born-again Christian, "the times they are a-

> 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?

Yes, I think it was known to Buddhists a few years before Levinas
discovered it. And I wouldn't be too surprised to learn that at least
some Buddhists get a pretty good handle on the topic without the help of

> A good place to start is The Cambridge Companion to Levinas.

Thanks for the tip. If I encounter anyone interested in starting to
learn about Levinas, I'll know where to send them. As I said, however,
it appears that I am surrounded by young folks who got started on
Levinas long ago.  

> 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.

You don't have the slightest idea what I think those words mean. How
could you? Even I don't know what I think those words mean. So include
me out of your observations about what most people think about those

> I hope this helps a little

Yes, it does. Thank you for taking the time to respond. Thank you for
your patience in dealing with such a profundity of ignorance on the

Richard Hayes
Department of Philosophy
University of New Mexico

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