The ethical significance of Levinas's aesthetics
thesisposted on 29.03.2022, 03:18 by David Hickling
There is abundant evidence in Levinas’s writings to conclude that his idea of aesthetics is incompatible with his ethics. This seems puzzling because after all Levinas admits to being led to philosophy through a love of literature. In later writings when Levinas seems to engage with art more positively he still seems to maintain that art and ethics are incompatible. What is the significance of this tension? I will examine this question and argue that a close examination of his writings actually reveals a rich and complex relationship between his ethics and aesthetics, and that it is possible, moreover, to interpret his work in such a way that his thought on aesthetics is central to his thoughts on ethics. If this is so, we can perhaps use a ‘Levinasian ethical framework’ as an ethical approach to aesthetics. I compare several approaches to aesthetics some of which I find, from a Levinasian perspective, to tend to be subjectivist and therefore incompatible with his notion of ethics. As a tentative solution I gesture toward an approach to aesthetics which could be ethical in Levinas’s terms by being responsible to the Other.