Morgan has written a useful and accessible introduction to the famously obtuse philosophy of Levinas, perhaps the greatest ethical philosopher of our time. A French phenomenologist, Talmudic scholar, Holocaust survivor, and practicing Orthodox Jew, Levinas has developed what has been called an “ethical transcendentalism.” That is, a philosophy that assumes that “responsibility is the essential, primary and fundamental structure of subjectivity.” For Levinas, it is “the harmony achieved between so much goodness and so much legalism that constitutes the original note of Judaism.” Levinas’s focus was to universalize Judaism, to bring “biblical wisdom” to the attention of Gentiles (and Jews) lodged in a “Greek lexicon of intelligibility.” In other words, Levinas attempts to translate the ethos of the Bible into Greek philosophy, explicating the ethical message of Judaism, with its commitment to the Good, into the language of philosophy, with its commitment to the True. Morgan has provided us with a good overview of Levinas’s key ideas, though the book would have been improved if it had a sharper critical edge. That said, Morgan has written a needed “service” book, one that presents a summary of Levinas’s views in a readable and interesting manner.
Paul Marcus, Ph.D., a psychoanalyst, is the author of Being for the Other: Emmanuel Levinas, Ethical Living and Psychoanalysis and In Search of the Good Life: Emmanuel Levinas, Psychoanalysis and the Art of Living.