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Williams, R.N. (2007). Levinas and Psychoanalysis: The Radical Turn Outward and Upward. Psychoanal. Rev., 94(4):681-701.

(2007). Psychoanalytic Review, 94(4):681-701

Levinas and Psychoanalysis: The Radical Turn Outward and Upward

Richard N. Williams

Within the current landscape of psychology, psychoanalytical thinking continues to capture the imagination and attention of thoughtful scholars principally because of its broad, encompassing scope and its tenacious concern with what can fairly be characterized as the “big picture” issues. Any serious scholar is thus drawn to psychoanalysis-broadly defined-to drink from a deeper well than is available from most more contemporary perspectives on human behavior. It is at the level of the “big picture” issues that the work of the Lithuanian-French phenomenologist, Emmanuel Levinas, makes contact with psychoanalytic theory. This paper will concentrate on two interconnected aspects of the big picture as a framework for discussing what Levinas's thought might bring to a discussion of human nature, psychopathology, and psychotherapy: the ethical dimension of human life, and the problem of an individual's relationship to others.

From all the “big picture” issues found at the heart of the works of the classical psychoanalytic thinkers, one stands out, primarily, perhaps, because more recent personality theories and models, for a variety of reasons, have largely omitted it. It is the issue of the moral dimension of human life. Morality was a fundamental part of Sigmund Freud's conception of the dynamics of human action. Carl Jung could certainly not avoid the moral content and valences that held complexes together, nor the moral tenor of archetypal meanings brought forward through history to inform current meaning and behavior.

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