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Marcus, P. (2006). Religion Without Promises: The Philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas and Psychoanalysis. Psychoanal. Rev., 93(6):923-951.

(2006). Psychoanalytic Review, 93(6):923-951

Religion Without Promises: The Philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas and Psychoanalysis

Paul Marcus, Ph.D.

When I ask myself why I have always striven honestly to be considerate of others and if possible kind to them and why I did not give this up when I noticed that one is harmed by such behavior and is victimized because others are brutal and unreliable, I really have no answer. It surely was not the sensible thing to do.

—Sigmund Freud (quoted in Hale, 1971, pp. 189-190)

The only morality is therefore one of kindness.

—Emmanuel Levinas,Difficult Freedom

While the work of the great French philosopher and Jewish scholar Emmanuel Levinas (1906-1995) is beginning to become known in the United States, he is regarded in France “as the most important ethical thinker of the twentieth century” (Davis, 1996, p. 120), recognized alongside such giants as Martin Heidegger, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and Jean-Paul Sartre. Philosopher Philippe Nemo further describes Levinas as “the philosopher of ethics, without doubt the sole moralist of contemporary thought” (Levinas, 1985, p. viii), while Derrida (1999) has indicated that “the reverberations of this thought will have changed the course of philosophical reflection in our time, and of our reflection on philosophy” (p. 4). Levinas has also influenced important philosophers who have a strong appreciation for psychoanalysis, such as Derrida, Paul Ricoeur, Jean Francois Lyotard, and Luce Irigary (who also practices as an analyst), to name a few. Thus, his work has “attained classic status …for his attempt to explore the meaning of ethics from a phenomenological starting point” (Bernasconi, 1998, p. 579).

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