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The notion of radical passivity undoubtedly constitutes the burning question in the thought of French philosopher, Emmanuel Levinas. Committed to the claim that egoism and freedom cannot give birth to generosity, Levinas presents radical passivity as a necessary condition for ethical action understood as taking responsibility for the other. In approaching another, Levinas argues, ‘something’ has overflowed my freely taken decisions, has slipped into me unbeknownst to me (CPP, 145). This something, this ‘other-within-the-self’ makes the self vulnerable to the call of the other and therefore capable of taking the other’s place, of substitution and sacrifice. Generosity and human fellowship, therefore, does not follow from a free rational consciousness capable of sympathy and compassion, but from a passivity ‘inflicted’ by an alterity at the heart of subjectivity. Levinas is not hereby saying that one should sacrifice oneself for others. He merely wants to account for its possibility.
This multiperspectical volume brings together a host of renowned Levinas scholars in an attempt to critically reflect upon the ethical significance of radical passivity. Contributions cover the entire scope of this notion’s evolution within Levinas’s thought from its phenomenological roots to its culmination in what is often referred to as his confessional writings, the Talmudic Readings. In addition, this volume offers us a much needed critical revaluation of key issues in Levinas’s thought which are, more often than not, uncritically assimilated or taken as matter of fact.
Editor's introduction Passivity as necessary condition for ethical agency? 1
1 Radical passivity : ethical problem or solution? Benda Hofmeyr Hofmeyr, Benda 15
2 Radical passivity in Levinas and Merleau-Ponty (lectures of 1954) Bettina Bergo Bergo, Bettina 31
3 Sincerely yours : towards a phenomenology of me Adriaan Peperzak Peperzak, Adriaan 55
4 Sincerely me : enjoyment and the truth of hedonism Joachim Duyndam Duyndam, Joachim 67
5 The fundamental ethical experience Alphonso Lingis Lingis, Alphonso 81
6 Radical passivity as the (only) basis for effective ethical action : reading the 'passage to the third' in Otherwise than being Peter Zeillinger Zeillinger, Peter 95
7 Listening to the language of the other Anya Topolski Topolski, Anya 111
8 Ab-originality : radical passivity through Talmudic reading Sean Hand Hand, Sean 133
9 L'Etre Entre les Lettres : creation and passivity in 'And God created woman' Luc Anckaert Anckaert, Luc 143