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Emmanuel Levinas, one of the most important ethical philosophers of 20th century was born in 12th January, 1908 in Lithuania. The Levinasian family belonged to Lithuania’s large and important Jewish community. Levinas was initiated early into Jewish Orthodoxy. It was here that he first learned to read the Bible in Hebrew. Russian was the language of his formal education and that was spoken at home. In his youth Levinas read the Great Russian writers. In 1923, Levinas travelled to France to study philosophy. Its political freedom and the philosophical traditions attracted him, in 1930, shortly after having published his dissertation, The Theory of Intuition in Husserl’s Phenomenology, he became a French citizen. In 1940, during the world war, he was arrested as a prisoner. Most members of his family in Lithuania were murdered by the Nazis during this time. Later after being a professor in different universities, he retired in 1979 and devoted himself to writing books. He was named to “a man of four cultures”: Jewish, Russian, German and French. He died of heart failure in Paris on Monday, 26th December 1995.
Levinas being an original thinker, with his experience of the world wars and the dominated by the presentment and memory of the Nazi horror, raises a very important and relevant question, what is the way forward. He stresses that the code of morality that was held high in the modern period and the early periods of humanity was in need of a change. Because, the holocaust and the after-events of the same became moments that raised radical questions and a revision of the task and essence of philosophy. A challenging question to be addressed is whether what was said about philosophy and its reflections on human existence, meaning, political order, ethics, etc., before the holocaust, could be continued after the holocaust or not? Whatever may be said after the holocaust, the Western philosophical, ethical and religious teachings and reflections were unable to prevent Auschwitz, in fact they may have actually provided a certain legitimation to the devaluation and desecration of human life.
Hence, Levinas is convinced that the traditional understanding of subject has seeds of violence in it, the ontological reduction of the Other to the Same being one among them. The foreignness and difference of the Other is viewed as a threat to the self. Levinas challenges the Western tradition to consider a very different understanding of subject. He is presenting to us an ethical subject, unlike the Cartesian ego of self-sufficient ‘I’ and the proposal of the present day psychology, who is vulnerable, fragile, non-in-dependent self, obsessed, and hostage for the Other. The subjectivity is framed by the Other, in calling out to the self to be responsible for the Other. It is a philosophy based on an encounter with the Other. He shifts the focus of philosophical thought away from the constitution of the Other and the Same in consciousness to a relationship between the Same and the Other. However, he does not provide a stable set of moral principles to govern this encounter; rather he is interested in challenging the Subject instead of giving ethical solutions to the problems.
For Levinas the encounter with the Other not only involves the active moments from the part of the subject, but more importantly, passive moments. The Other is considered as someone to be responded to, that is, the Other is not a thing rather an expression of a solicitation, a summons to respond. As Levinas says, “The face summons me”; the face is a summons to respond, it summons the subject to assume responsibility for the Other. Levinas asserts that the response of the subject to the Other “… is the response of responsibility.” The subject is indebted to the Other for its expression to the Other. According to him, responsibility is not a choice of the subject, rather the subject belongs to responsibility. The presence of the face of the Other demands my responsibility for it; a responsibility which arises from the fear of killing the Other. So, his ethics calls one to set aside one’s egoism and move towards being totally for the Other.
I feel it is very real to claim that Levinasian philosophy is based on the phenomenological fact that the face of the Other calls the subject to responsibility. For Levinas, the call of the face is a command to respond to the responsibility of the subject towards the Other. This call provides the subject certain orientation to respond to the Other, an orientation, which is rooted in the Other’s calling of the subject to responsibility which even goes to the extent of substituting for the Other. Thus Levinas characterises his subject with the qualities of responsibility, substitution, docility and even as one striving for difficult justice. It is weak, and is a hostage. The ego of the subject, ‘I,’ undergoes transition at the demand of the Other and becomes an accusative ‘me.’ According to him, the subject is hostage to the other, a sort of hostage that assumes responsibility to the Other, which comes prior to autonomy and freedom. Thus the subject becomes a humble self who loses oneself on the demands of the face of the Other.
In my view, the entire work of Levinas operates on the experience of an exorbitant demand that determines the ethical subject. The approval of ‘here I am’ from the subject is a response to the imperative of the face ‘you shall not kill.’ However, the Levinasian subject is constituted through an act of approval to a demand to which it is fundamentally inadequate. I am not equal to the demand that is made on me. Hence, he explains this fundamental inadequacy of the approval to the demand as the reason for the asymmetrical relation to the Other. That is, the subject relates itself to something that exceeds its relational capacity. My responsibility to the Other becomes the Other’s right. All the more for Levinas, the subject is formed by the Other. That is the subject is not self-forming, rather it is formed by the Other with whom I am relating. Such an understanding challenges the subject to be far from being the self-centred ego. It breaks all the traditional understandings and places ‘ethics as the first philosophy.’ Hence, the subject embodied with the ‘ethical responsibility’ moves out from a symmetrical relationship to a model of asymmetrical relationship where the subject is at the service of the Other. Here the subject is a sub-ject; and a subject on the presence of the third party.
I think, in the present day, scenarios of consumerism, globalization, secularization, and dogmatization, where the set moral principle defines nothing other than performance of certain actions, the Levinasian subject becomes a challenge to everyone. It demands one’s responsibility to the Other in the event of the epiphany of the face of the Other. For he frames his inquiry into the subject based on the far-reaching question “what would it mean if, rather than responding to the threat of the Other with violence, we endeavoured to accept our dispossession of the world, to listen to the voice of the Other rather than suppress it?” His contributions are of major importance, particularly when it comes to reaching out to the neglected areas of society, in rediscovering the subject in the philosophical tradition. Levinas moves away from a growing individualism and self-centeredness. He urges us to lead a noble life, a life in which one is able to place the Other before himself, not as a choice but as his primary obligation. Therefore I wish to emphasise that ‘the Levinasian Subject’ as a beacon of hope from which we can draw inspiration for an authentic living.
“ Are we not perhaps all afraid in some way? If we let Christ enter fully into our lives, if we open ourselves totally to Him, are we not afraid that He might take something away from us?… No! If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great. No! Only in this friendship do we experience beauty and liberation….When we give ourselves to Him, we receive a hundredfold in return. Yes, open, open wide the doors to Christ – and you will find true life.  ”
The book entitled the ‘The Levinasian Subject: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas ’ is an attempt to encounter the concepts of Subject proposed by Emmanuel Levinas. The book has four distinct chapters with a general introduction and conclusion. The first chapter of this study presents the life and works of Levinas from the historical point of view, with mention of some of his major works and major influences. The second chapter discusses the Levinasian understanding of the Other as infinity. Infinity refers to the radical otherness, which is far from the Same. It is explored under two headings, i.e., the Same and the Other with a reference to the metaphysical tradition of the West, which tried to reduce the Other to the Same. The major part of the work is dealt with in the third chapter under the heading ‘The Levinasian Subject’. It treats the understanding of subject according to Levinas. The key concepts of Levinasian philosophy such as the Face, Responsibility, Substitution, and Relationship to the Other, etc. are discussed here. The relevance of the Levinasian subject in the present day world is explored in the fourth chapter. Considering the implications of the present day philosophies the chapter proceeds to propose the Levinasian Subject as the new subject that must be taken seriously. The dissertation concludes by pointing out the rich implication of the Levinasian philosophy especially from the point of view of the subject.
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Each one is called to make a difference in this world through his/her presence. But how do we do it is important…
I choose this way….and U
Love and care for the one you love: it makes a difference
I was born in a secluded village on a mountain. Day by day, my parents plowed the yellow dry soil with their backs towards the sky. I have a brother who is 3 years younger than me. I wanted to buy a handkerchief, which all girls around me seemed to have. So, one day I stole 50 cents from my father‘s drawer. Father had discovered about the stolen money right away. He made me and my younger brother kneel against the wall as he held a bamboo stick in his hand. “Who stole the money?” he asked. I was stunned, too afraid to talk. Neither of us admitted to the fault, so he said, “Fine, if nobody wants to admit, you two should be beaten!” He lifted up the bamboo stick. Suddenly, my younger brother gripped father’s hand and said,” Dad, I was the one who did it!” The long stick smacked my brother’s back repeatedly. Father was so angry that he kept on whipping my brother until he lost his breath. After that, he sat down on our stone bed and scolded my brother, “You have learned to steal from your own house now. What other embarrassing things will you be possibly doing in the future? You should be beaten to death, you shameless thief!” That night, my mother and I hugged my brother. His body was full of wounds from the beating but he never shed a single tear. In the middle of the night, all of sudden, I cried out loudly. My brother covered my mouth with his little hand and said, “Sis, now don’t cry anymore. Everything has happened.” I still hate myself for not having enough courage to admit what I did.
Years gone by, but the incident still seemed like it just happened yesterday. I will never forget my brother’s expression when he protected me. That year, my brother was 8 years old and I was 11 years old. When my brother was in his last year of secondary school, he was accepted in an upper secondary school in the central. At the same time, I was accepted into a university in the province. That night, father squatted in the yard, smoking, packet by packet. I could hear him ask my mother, “Both of our children, they have good results? Very good results?” Mother wiped off her tears and sighed,” What is the use? How can we possibly finance both of them?” At that time, my brother walked out, he stood in front of father and said, “Dad, I don’t want to continue my study anymore, I have read enough books.” Father swung his hand and slapped my brother on his face. “Why do you have a spirit? So damn weak? Even if it means I have to beg for money on the streets, I will send you two to school until you have both finished your study!” And then, he started to knock on every house in the village to borrow money. I stuck out my hand as gently as I can to my brother’s swollen face, and told him, “A boy has to continue his study; If not, he will not be able to overcome this poverty we are experiencing.” I, on the other hand, had decided not to further my study at the university. Nobody knew that on the next day, before dawn, my brother left the house with a few pieces of worn-out clothes and a few dry beans. He sneaked to my side of the bed and left a note on my pillow; “Sis, getting into a university is not easy. I will go find a job and I will send money to you.” I held the note while sitting on my bed, and cried until I lost my voice. That year, my brother was 17 years old; I was 20 years old.
With the money father borrowed from the whole village, and the money my brother earned from carrying cement on his back at a construction site, finally, I managed to get to the third year of my study in the university. One day, while I was studying in my room, my roommate came in and told me, “There’s a villager waiting for you outside!” Why would there be a villager looking for me? I walked out, and I saw my brother from afar. His whole body was covered with dirt, dust, cement and sand. I asked him, “Why did you not tell my roommate that you are my brother?” He replied with a smile,” Look at my appearance. What will they think if they would know that I am your brother? Won’t they laugh at you?” I felt so touched, and tears filled my eyes. I swept away dirt and dust from my brother’s body. And told him with a lump in my throat, “I don’t care what people would say! You are my brother no matter what! Your appearance is?” From his pocket, he took out a butterfly hair clip. He put it on my hair and said, “I saw all the girls in town are wearing it. So, I think you should also have one.” I could not hold back myself anymore. I pulled my brother into my arms and cried. That year, my brother was 20 years old; I was 23 years old.
I noticed that the broken window was repaired the first time I brought my boyfriend home. The house was scrubbed cleaned. After my boyfriend left, I danced like a little girl in front of my mother, “Mom, you didn’t have to spend so much time cleaning the house!” But she told me with a smile,” It was your brother who went home early to clean the house. Didn’t you see the wound on his hand? He hurt his hand while he was replacing the window.” I went into my brother’s bedroom. Looking at his thin face, I felt like there are hundreds of needle pricked in my heart. I applied some ointment on his wound and put a bandage on it, “Does it hurt? ” I asked him. “No, it doesn’t hurt. You know, when at the construction site, stones keep falling on my feet. Even that could not stop me from working.” In the middle of the sentence, he stopped. I turned my back on him and tears rolled down my face. That year, my brother was 23 years old; I was 26 years old.
After I got married, I lived in the city. Many times my husband invited my parents to come and live with us, but they didn’t want. They said, once they left the village, they wouldn’t know what to do. My brother agreed with them. He said, “Sis, you just take care of your parents-in-law. I will take care of mom and dad here.” My husband became the director of his factory. We asked my brother to accept the offer of being the manager in the maintenance department. But my brother rejected the offer. He insisted on working as a repairman instead for a start.
One day, my brother was on the top of a ladder repairing a cable, when >he got electrocuted, and was sent to the hospital. My husband and I visited him at the hospital. Looking at the white gypsum on his leg, I grumbled, “Why did you reject the offer of being a manager? Managers won’t do something dangerous like that. Now look at you, You are suffering a serious injury. Why didn’t you just listen to us?” With a serious expression on his face, he defended his decision, “Think of brother-in-law. He just became the director, and I being uneducated, and would become a manager, what kind of rumors would fly around?” My husband’s eyes filled up with tears, and then I said, “But you lack in education only because of me!” “Why do you talk about the past?” he said and then he held my hand. That year, he was 26 years old and I was 29 years old.
My brother was 30 years old when he married a farmer girl from the village. During the wedding reception, the master of ceremonies asked him, “Who is the one person you respect and love the most?” Without even taking a time to think, he answered,” My sister.” He continued by telling a story I could not even remember. “When I was in primary school, the school was in a different village. Everyday, my sister and I would walk for 2 hours to school and back home. One day, I lost the other pair of my gloves. My sister gave me one of hers. She wore only one glove and she had to walk far. When we got home, her hands were trembling because of the cold weather that she could not even hold her chopsticks. From that day on, I swore that as long as I live, I would take care of my sister and will always be good to her.” Applause filled up the room. All guests turned their attention to me. I found it hard to speak, “In my whole life, the one I would like to thank most is my brother,” And in this happy occasion, in front of the crowd, tears were rolling down my face again.
Love and care for the one you love every single day of your life. You may think what you did is just a small deed, but to that someone, it may mean a lot.
Be certain of your goal, dream
Many years ago as a boy, an acquaintance of mine dreamed of being a fighter pilot… the very best! Some years later he had joined the India Air Force and got his chance to go to flight school. He related that when he first got there, he was told in clear and certain terms that he was – as of that very moment – a pilot.
He was then quickly informed that he just needed to improve greatly in one area – that of experience – to be a better one. This was a concept and an attitude that was to serve him well in the challenging times. He was to draw from this not only as a pilot, but also in his daily living!
When the monotony of repeated practice drills got overwhelming, he only had to remember, “You are a fighter pilot – you only need to improve in experience to be a better one” – it somehow became a little easier.
Sometimes frustration, lack of sleep (because of long hours needed for study), and a constant nagging fear of failure were almost too much for him. He felt like quitting! It was then he needed to remember what he’d been told: “You are a fighter pilot – you need only to improve your experience to be a better one”!
Daily he remembered… and renewed his commitment to his dream. When his schooling was completed and he graduated at the top of his class – he was just a little taller – as he saluted, then accepted his wings. He really was a pilot! Of course… he had been one from day one!
Now… he was a better one! So much better in fact, that he was asked to stay and teach at this very same school. He had something of great value, some-thing others wanted, his experience! He was a flight instructor for a number of years before he retired as certainly one of the best!
Through all this, the rewards given him by senior officers and peers were nothing compared to the reward he had given himself! He realized his dream…. he was the best pilot he could be!
Something needs to be said here for experience. You see, you can study and learn – all there is to “know” about a particular thing. My friend knew all about the aircraft – the hydraulic systems, the gages, lights and controls, and all of it’s aerodynamics and capabilities. But until he strapped on the parachute and logged some flight-time… he did not reach his full potential… and he did not realize his dream to be the best!
If you think about it, this makes all the sense in the world! We are – at least on the inside – whatever we truly want to be! We owe it to ourselves to go after the experience… to be a better “pilot”! It makes it all a little easier – with a daily commitment to our dreams…and not giving up… but remembering what we’ve been told!
Beauty consists in giving, sharing
One day a young man was standing in the middle of the town proclaiming that he had the most beautiful heart in the whole valley. A large crowd gathered and
they all admired his heart for it was perfect. There was not a mark or a flaw in it. Yes, they all agreed it truly was the most beautiful heart they had ever seen. The young man was very proud and boasted more loudly about his beautiful heart.
Suddenly, an old man appeared at the front of the crowd and said, “Why, your heart is not nearly as beautiful as mine.” The crowd and the young man looked at the old man’s heart. It was beating strongly, but full of scars, it had places where pieces had been removed and other pieces put in, but they didn’t fit quite right and there were several jagged edges. In fact, in some places there were deep gouges where whole pieces were missing. The people stared — how can he say his heart is more beautiful, they thought?
The young man looked at the old man’s heart and saw its state and laughed. “You must be joking,” he said. “Compare your heart with mine, mine is perfect and yours is a mess of scars and tears.” “Yes,” said the old man, “yours is perfect
looking but I would never trade with you. You see, every scar represents a
person to whom I have given my love – I tear out a piece of my heart and give
it to them, and often they give me a piece of their heart which fits into the
empty place in my heart, but because the pieces aren’t exact, I have some rough edges, which I cherish, because they remind me of the love we shared.
Sometimes I have given pieces of my heart away, and the other person hasn’t returned a piece of his heart to me. These are the empty gouges — giving love is taking a chance. Although these gouges are painful, they stay open, reminding me of the love I have for these people too, and I hope someday they may return and fill the space I have waiting. So now do you see what true beauty is?”
The young man stood silently with tears running down his cheeks. He walked up to the old man, reached into his perfect young and beautiful heart, and ripped a piece out. He offered it to the old man with trembling hands. The old man took his offering, placed it in his heart and then took a piece from his old scarred heart and placed it in the wound in the young man’s heart. It fit, but not perfectly, as there were some jagged edges. The young man looked at his heart, not perfect any more but more beautiful than ever, since love from the old man’s heart flowed into his. They embraced and walked away side by side.
Altogether in one life and faith
A few years ago, at the Seattle Special Olympics, nine contestants, all
physically or mentally disabled, assembled at the starting line for the 100-yard dash. At the gun, they all started out, not exactly in a dash, but a relish to run the race to the finish and win. All, that is, except one little boy who stumbled on the asphalt, tumbled over a couple of times, and began to cry. The other eight heard the boy cry. They slowed down and looked back. Then they all turned around and went back……every one of them. One girl with Down’s Syndrome bent down and kissed him and said, “This will make it
better.” Then all nine linked arms and walked together to the finish line.
Everyone in the stadium stood, and the cheering went on for several minutes. People who were there are still telling the story. Why? Because deep down we know this one thing: What matters in this life is more than winning for ourselves. What matters in this life is helping others win, even if it means slowing down and changing our course.
True joy consists in giving
A sobbing little girl stood near a small church from which she had been turned away because it “was too crowded.”
“I can’t go to Sunday School,” she sobbed to the pastor as he walked by. Seeing
her shabby, unkempt appearance, the pastor guessed the reason and, taking her by the hand, took her inside and found a place for her in the Sunday school class.
The child was so touched that she went to bed that night thinking of the
children who have no place to worship Jesus. Some two years later, this child
lay dead in one of the poor tenement buildings and the parents called for the
kind-hearted pastor, who had befriended their daughter, to handle the final
As her poor little body was being moved, a worn and crumpled purse was found
which seemed to have been rummaged from some trash dump. Inside was found 57
cents and a note scribbled in childish handwriting which read, “This is to help
build the little church bigger so more children can go to Sunday School.” For two years she had saved for this offering of love. When the pastor tearfully read that note, he knew instantly what he would do.
Carrying this note and the cracked pocketbook to the pulpit, he told the story of her unselfish love and devotion. He challenged his deacons to get busy and raise enough money for the larger building. But the story does not end there!
A newspaper learned of the story and published it. It was read by a Realtor who offered them a parcel of land worth many thousands. When told that the church could not pay so much, he offered it for 57 cents. Church members made large donations. Checks came from far and wide. Within five years the little girl’s gift had increased to $250,000.00 — a huge sum for that time (near the turn of the century). Her unselfish love had paid large dividend.
When you are in the city of Philadelphia, look up Temple Baptist Church, with a seating capacity of 3,300 and Temple University, where hundreds of students are trained. Have a look, too, at the Good Samaritan Hospital and at a Sunday School building which houses hundreds of Sunday Schoolers, so that no child in the area will ever need to be left outside during Sunday school time.
In one of the rooms of this building may be seen the picture of the sweet face of the little girl whose 57 cents, so sacrificially saved, made such remarkable history. Alongside of it is a portrait of her kind pastor, Dr. Russell H. Conwell, author of the book, “Acres of diamonds” A true story, which goes to show what God can do with 57 cents.
TRUE JOY IS A JOY IN GIVING. LIKE MOTHER TO CHILDREN, FRIEND TO FRIEND AND LOVER TO BELOVED.
Simon as he was returning from the field was forced to help Jesus, though unwillingly he decides to do it. (How far we move out to help others in need and what motivates us to do that?)
Where as Veronica, though weak and feeble (looking at the status of women in Jewish society) decides to help Jesus in the little way she can. The external circumstances does not affect her thinking or action she is moved by her inner conviction of love for Jesus. (Are we motivated by our inner convictions than the external forces in our efforts to help others?)
Where do we stand? It´s a journey that one will be able to make with conscious efforts and prayer.