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Levinas, Emmanuel

  1. Robert Bernasconi

Published Online: 1 FEB 2013

DOI: 10.1002/9781444367072.wbiee578

The International Encyclopedia of Ethics

How to Cite

Bernasconi, R. 2013. Levinas, Emmanuel. The International Encyclopedia of Ethics. .

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 1 FEB 2013


A knowledge of Emmanuel Levinas' life is more helpful for understanding his philosophy than is usually the case with philosophers, because he understood his life as dominated by the “presentiment and memory of the Nazi horror” (Levinas 1990a: 291), and the same could be said of his philosophy. He was witness to some of the most violent events of the twentieth century as well as some of its intellectual high points. Born into a Jewish family in Kovno, Lithuania, Levinas (1906–95) was a refugee during World War I and the Russian Revolution. He went to Strasbourg University in France in 1923, but a year at Freiburg University in Germany beginning in 1928, which enabled him to study phenomenology first with Edmund Husserl (see Husserl, Edmund) and then with Martin Heidegger (see Heidegger, Martin), had the most impact on him. In the 1930s Levinas was the foremost interpreter in France of both these thinkers, although after 1933 he took a critical distance from Heidegger because of the latter's association with National Socialism. Levinas was a prisoner of war in Germany for five years during World War II, saved by his status as a soldier from the Holocaust in which he lost almost all his relatives. He is perhaps the foremost of the philosophers identified as post-Holocaust thinkers.


  • continental philosophy;
  • ethics