- Tapa dura: 248 páginas
- Editor: Routledge; Edición: 1 (16 de diciembre de 2013)
- Colección: Routledge Jewish Studies Series
- Idioma: Inglés
- ISBN-10: 0415843316
- ISBN-13: 978-0415843317
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Emmanuel Levinas and the Limits to Ethics: A Critique and a Re-Appropriation (Routledge Jewish Studies Series) (Inglés) Tapa dura – 16 dic 2013
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Reseña del editor
Emanuel Levinas and the Limits to Ethics highlights how radically different Jewish ethics is from Christian ethics, and the profound affinities that subsist between Jewish ethics and philosophical and political liberalism.
The philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas has captured the imagination of a global constituency who take his absolutizing of ethical demands and his assigning primacy to ethics over all other branches of inquiry in his mapping of Western philosophy to be indicative of a major re-ordering of both personal and cultural identity. It is this re-ordering, they believe, that would restore greater wholeness and value to human life. In this book, Aryeh Botwinick takes issue with both the theoretical analysis that Levinas engages in, and the practical ethical import that he draws from it.
Arguing that what Levinas has to say about both skepticism and negative theology can be used to re-route his argument away from the avowed aims of his thought, this book will be of great interest to students and scholars of Jewish Studies, Ethics and Philosophy.
Biografía del autor
Aryeh Botwinick is Professor of Political Science at Temple University specializing in political theory. He studies the relationship between monotheism and skepticism considered both as a structure of argument and as an ethical content. Previous publications include Skepticism, Belief, and the Modern: Maimonides to Nietzsche (1997), and Michael Oakeshott’s Skepticism (2011).
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Botwinick’s basic criticisms of Levinas comes down to the putative “tension in Levinas’ work…between his laying the groundwork for an ethics that is otherwise than certainty and his actual pursuit of an ethics of certainty” (4). The alleged quest for certainty apparently manifests in Levinas’ construal of meaning as a “vertical deliverance or transcendence” (18) in a self-abnegating “perfectionist ethic” (7) that prioritizes the Other qua Infinite, held to be construed in an overly realist sense. Over-against such an approach, Botwinick suggests, “vertical transcendence is best reconfigured as horizontal transcendence – a conception of human time that stretches endlessly forward into infinity” (41). By instead adopting an irredeemably metaphorical and “horizontal” understanding of the ‘infinite,’ Botwinick’s “generalized agnosticism” apparently opens a “philosophical space…for…catering to the needs of the other as well as for accommodating the needs of the self” (49-50). Properly reflexive skepticism apparently “creates space for practical precepts,” (135) and the endless deferral of theoretical closure apparently “fold[s] onto our envisioning of power” (34) and ethics. Ultimately, Botwinick holds “the version of ‘infinity’ in Levinas’ corpus that I am calling ‘horizontal transcendence’ remains close to the Jewish script, whereas the systematically phenomenological ethics of Otherwise than Being [hereafter OB] evokes and dramatizes Christian certainty” (5).
Botwinick performs suggestive analyses of Rabbinic commentary and liberal theory to concretize these claims. Rabbinic treatments of the Kohen’s blessing presents a “Biblical projection of blessing as a kind of round in which the role of conferrer of blessing and object of blessing can be exchanged is evocative of the endlessly displaced character of the activity of blessing” (28). Through relational displacement an ‘economy of blessing’ and a sort of self-reinforcing, mimetic-moral community can emerge (cf. 29), and can do so without mandating the complete subordination of the self to the Other. In an analogous way, classical liberal theory – and Machiavelli’s treatment of power specifically – presents power as most effective the more thoroughly it is displaced (33). By subordinating the ‘good’ to the ‘right,’ liberal institutions “ensure the endless deferral of such issues as sovereignty, truth, and justice” (35), while potentially facilitating the displacement and dispersement of power amongst its citizens and across generations. The negative theological treatment of the nature of God, and liberal theory’s agnosticism on ‘thick’ accounts of the good, seem intended to exemplify the character of Botwinick’s “horizontal infinite” and the ethical potentials of his “generalized agnosticism.”
Botwinick is most successful in his recurring religious exegesis throughout the book. He appears to demonstrate that Levinas and the Rabbis are at odds on the question of the self. Unlike Levinas, the Rabbis seem to present the self as thoroughly and irreducibly social. Sociality rather than radical singularity seems to constitute and orient human identity, and this is why concomitant rabbinic treatments of self-regard tend to register its relational nature, treating rather than damning its very existence. Botwinick also helps focus our attention on the self-referential nature of language as such, on the consequences this holds in Levinas’ methodology, and on the inevitable limits of human understanding this portends for the sincere pursuit of truth.
Botwinick’s questions to Levinas and overall experiment present a creative attempt to construct a position that can meaningfully speak to our times. Nevertheless, he fails to convince, both in his critique of Levinas and in his general proposal. For example, Botwinick writes, “Contra Levinas, one could point out how…one gets from the self to the Other through the medium…of generosity (and its relation to epistemological limitation)” (25). The problem here seems clear. Botwinick apparently fails to grasp the precise counters of Levinas’ position. Again, “Doing precedes, and endlessly staves off the possibility of, being” (7). When such statements are presented as somehow conflicting with Levinas’ position, something strange is taking place. One apparent reason for Botwinick’s interpretive missteps is that he fails to treat Levinas’ work with sufficient care and focus. His analysis of Levinas relies primarily on secondary literature, and even his treatment of this literature is ultimately framed by his larger project of constructing a “generalized agnosticism.” Given his own project, had Botwinick tarried longer with Levinas’ texts, for example, by closely examining the messianism described in Totality and Infinity or the ‘prophetism’ said to characterize diachrony in OB, he may have evaluated Levinas’ work as a quite useful guide for his own project.
Given Botwinick’s primary aim in this book, he can perhaps be forgiven for reading Levinas through a programmatic lens. Unfortunately, Botwinick’s own proposal is itself quite unconvincing. He never really demonstrates – or even plausibly suggests – how reflexive skepticism is supposed to yield a specifically ethical orientation. He appears to want to radicalize neo-Kantian redeployments of negative theology, asserting that “ethics [should be] grounded in skepticism” (4) and that skepticism “creates space for practical precepts” (135). But insofar as he defines his skepticism by an irredeemable breach between “words…[and] things,” (3) it remains unclear how ‘practical precepts’ can even function. Reflexively applying skeptical questioning to the skeptical gesture itself – thereby yielding a “generalized agnosticism” – does nothing to clarify this situation. Skepticism is incapable of ‘grounding’ anything at all, let alone an ethics in general.
The idiosyncratic project of ‘skeptically grounding’ ethics can perhaps account for the significant number of contradictory statements throughout this book as whole. For example, Botwinick rightly suggests, “Jewish religion wants to foster the creation of a community that will remain faithful to its underlying theoretical insight” (136). Yet he also asserts, “Monotheist theory does not in any logically constraining way determine the content of religious practice” (135). If ‘monotheist theory’ or Jewish thought in general were held to be completely empty, then no contradiction here obtains. In this case, Botwinick must purchase consistency at the price of reducing Judaism to skepticism tout court. Botwinick’s Judaism, then, would have nothing to teach. On the other hand, if Jewish thought does involve substantive content, such that some sort of a link remains between its theory and practice, then Botwinick must concede that something more than ‘reflexive skepticism’ is at play in Jewish thought, and in Jewish community in particular. As if to anticipate such objections, Botwinick opines:
*[A]…more satisfying way to look at the question of the relationship between monotheist theory and monotheist practice…is to say that given the contradictory status of theory that paradoxically legitimates the entry of further, unlimited contradictions into statements that we take to be true, the practices sanctioned and/or required by any particular monotheist religion or sect might reasonably be classifiable as unqualified, unconditional truth – and therefore escape the taint of being regarded as ideologies* (137)
Contradictory indeed. ‘Skeptical’ monotheism is simultaneously held to be unconditioned truth, reflexive skepticism apparently consistent with the affirmation of absolute practical dogma. Botwinick seems to assume that structural claims for the formal paradoxes that attend logical systems in general license particular assertions of contradictory senses within a particular system of meaning. This is not the case.
The problem seems to lie in Botwinick’s near absolute faith in the “underdetermination of words by things” (3), taken with his explicit avowal of pragmatism. He seems to simultaneously insist 1) doing is prior to knowing such that communities of practice do not require more robust, external, higher-order validation to justify their basic practices, norms, and categories. And 2) all communities of practice stand in need of higher-order justification, even though this justification is simultaneously held to be a priori impossible. Botwinick seems aware of this problem:
*There appears to be a tension between what looks like my advocacy of a pragmatism that assigns priority to doing and making above knowing and my embrace of a meta-epistemological theory that highlights the word-theory gap as the very justification for the pragmatism. As a pragmatist, I could presumably come up with a different meta-theory that would enable me to fashion a different theoretical world.* (69)
Botwinick has ensnared himself in a vicious circle, and his general appeal to potential plurality misses the point. Communities of practices stand in need of higher-order justification, or they don’t. Perhaps we might generously interpret him as merely taking a robust stand against realism in all its forms, but even this appears barred to us: “we are free to invoke ‘realist’ factors to provide us with a sense of orientation and direction in our theoretical practical quests. …[R]ealism is on no more – and no less – a secure footing than constructivism and skepticism” (82). Once more, generalized claims for the limits of knowledge in general do nothing to ameliorate the incoherence of his overall project, nor especially Levinas’ treatment within it. Indeed, at strategic points throughout the text Botwinick performs general appeals to “multi-valued logics” that apparently “map the suspension of the Law of the Excluded Middle – [and] might encode reality more accurately than traditional…logic” (145). The criteria for ‘accuracy’ operative here, he never mentions.
The incoherence of Botwinick’s overall project turns tragic in light of his eminently noble aspirations. He ultimately wants to criticize the hubris of ideology and commend the virtue of epistemic humility. His attempt to utilize skepticism for ethical ends is laudable, even if he fails to make his case that it can somehow ‘ground’ an ethics. The ultimate tragedy of this book is that the “[k]indness, compassion, and benevolence” (25) for which Botwinick pleads are not embodied in his own methodology. His treatment of Levinas is unfair. A merely cursory reading of Levinas’ corpus discloses that the question of certainty is not the driving question. Any serious reading of OB cannot fail to note that substitution is cast as ‘not’ a knowledge, as ‘not’ consoling, and as ‘not’ originating in given and transparent principles. There are problems with Levinas’ position in OB, but a pathological quest for certainty is manifestly not among them. The sole problem Botwinick seems to have with Levinas comes down to this: “Christian imagery suffuses Levinas’ ethics in [OB] (174);” “The self being construed as being saturated in the Christian imagery…marks Levinas’ argument (176);” “Levinas invokes a distinctly Christian imagery that is suggestive of arriving at a layer of human relationship so primordial…that in effect some kind of circumvention of skepticism is taking place (183);” “Levinas…fits in much more closely with a Christian theological framework than with a Jewish one (199).” The actual context, content, and meaning of Levinas’ descriptions are apparently discredited by the mere appearance of proximity to Christianity. In truth, Botwinick’s lurch into sectarian demonization is evident from the outset: “a number of key polarities that are central to my argument: theory/ideology; religion/secularism; Judaism/Christianity” (4). While Levinas is at least granted the dignity of being treated in the midst Botwinick’s systematic misinterpretation of his texts, Christianity is here assigned the august privilege of reduction to categorial straw. Beyond a few tendentious and sclerotic assertions, Botwinick fails to clearly present any specific Christian doctrine, let alone argue against it; let alone treat the diversity and internal contests that constitute Christianity’s intellectual tradition. If the central problem Levinas and Christianity share is in their affirmation “of layer of [ethical] relationship that is so primordial and fundemental that in effect some kind of circumvention of skepticism is taking place” (183), how do we interpret Botwinick’s own positive assertions? For example, “Kindness, compassion and benevolence all bespeak the transformation of a lack of reason for action into the highest principle of action” (25). Skeptical indeed. Levinas and Christianity couldn’t agree more.