Date of Award

Spring 1993

Document Type

Dissertation - Restricted

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Sallon, A.


The crisis of consciousness characterizes modernity as much as the emancipation from ontological reason. The dissolution of interiority, and the separation from totalizing systems goes together with a critique of the authority of dogmatic thinking. Modernity has been the time of metaphysico-historicist legitimations. Both Levinas and Sartre emerge on this horizon. For both of them, the dilemma is: how can one still believe in an ethical eschatology in a reign of political violence and scarcity? Levinas will try to elaborate his answer from an anachronistic point of view, while Sartre thinks morals for the present in a dialectics of engagement and disengagement from History. The means are certainly different but a crucial point will unite both thinkers: the idea that responsibility is limitative of an abusive or unjustified freedom. For Sartre, to justify freedom is the condition of truth, be it a truth in perpetual process of verification, while, for Levinas, the truth is inscribed in the face of the other as infinite exigence. In this dissertation, I will try to make these two positions meet. Beforehand however, I would like to insist on Levinas' specific hermeneutics to show how it allows a "critique of critiques", which heralds a new age in the history of western thought, albeit a newness anchored in a past that never became present, while Sartre's radical freedom seems to have been swallowed by historical conditioning and negative reciprocity to make room for a conversion into a claiming of contingency, birth, otherness as condition of justified freedom. It seems that Sartre has been closer to a metaphysics as historicism of enlightenment - idealistic, positivist or Marxist - and that this metaphysics has been revealed as mere ideology. It is in his estrangement from Heidegger's idea that modern history is a metaphysics in act that Sartre will interest us here. Levinas leads us on a road of liberation from structures of being as archei, or categories of knowledge, that try to justify violence through metaphysical foundations.



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