Levinas and 'Finite Freedom'

In Joe Saunders (ed.), Freedom After Kant: From German Idealism to Ethics and the Self. Blackwell's (2023)
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The ethical philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas is typically associated with a punishing conception of responsibility rather than freedom. In this chapter, our aim is to explore Levinas’s often overlooked theory of freedom. Specifically, we compare Levinas’s account of freedom to the Kantian (and Fichtean) idea of freedom as autonomy and the Hegelian idea of freedom as relational. Based on these comparisons, we suggest that Levinas offers a distinctive conception of freedom—“finite freedom.” In contrast to Kantian autonomy, finite freedom constitutively involves standing in certain social relations with others. And in contrast to Hegelian relational freedom, the social relations involved in finite freedom are not defined by mutual recognition, but by feelings of separation and even antagonism. Along the way, we promote a reading Levinas’s Totality and Infinity as a Hegel-style story of Bildung (development), and show how, on Levinas’s view, freedom can develop or mature in the life of the individual.



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James H. P. Lewis
Cardiff University

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