Today, I’m presenting an abridged version of the linked paper at the annual meeting of the North American Levinas Society, which I’m also posting in the My papers section of the website. Here is an abstract:
Abstract: This paper approaches the question of Levinas’ relation to philosophy by situating his understanding of transcendence next to that of Leibniz. After offering some preliminary examples, I detail the structure of transcendence in the philosophies of Leibniz and Levinas, focusing on Leibniz’s Principles of Nature and Grace and Levinas’ Essence and Disinterestedness. From here, I return to the question of whether Levinas’ thinking can be regarded as moving beyond philosophy as such. I conclude with some thoughts on what it would take for a thinking of transcendence to genuinely move past the maneuvers so characteristic of philosophical thinking.
The paper is in certain respects more offbeat than most of my other work, and doesn’t easily fit the content or tenor of many journal discussions. It is also one of the works I’m most proud of, mostly because it attempts to state something of lasting importance, and I think states it well. If the paper is read primarily as a comparative exegesis of two thinkers, then the reader may be disappointed. Rather, the aim is to open up an understanding of transcendence, and with it, of the nature of philosophy itself, through a comparative reading of Leibniz’s and Levinas’ texts. Approach this one in the first place as a philosopher asking philosophical questions, not as a scholar with scholar’s concerns, and you may benefit from reading it, as I have from writing it.