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Title: The 'breach' that Leads to God : on the interrelation between love and justice as revelatory enactment in the work of Emmanuel Levinas
Author: Innes, Stephen
Awarding Body: King's College London (University of London)
Current Institution: King's College London (University of London)
Date of Award: 2013
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This thesis undertakes a critically constructive examination of the relation of love and justice in the work of Emmanuel Levinas, concentrating principally upon what for Levinas is the “revelatory” status of this relation, which, when enacted, gives witness of the Infinite. Although the term “revelation” in Levinas’s work is often employed with specific reference to the ethical relation between human beings, without any apparent religious connotation, he also maintains that the revelatory character of the ethical relation constitutes the “breach that leads to God”. Importantly, this is not to be understood as an impassable chasm between immanence and transcendence but rather as a “breach” within immanence itself, at the enactment of which the unthinkable and unthematisable God first “comes to mind”. Through the analysis of love and justice, as the mutually constitutive and interdependent enactments which give witness of this breach, familiar themes in Levinas’s work will also be shown to be associated with it: for example, asymmetry, diachronic time, the “saying” and the “said”, nothingness and being, and the “passing” of the infinite in the finite. In light of this analysis, the thesis will then seek to address a specific and often-debated problem in Levinas’s work about whether, and if so how, the God who “comes to mind” in the ethical relation (where the term “God” retains the character of an irrepressible ambiguity) can be identified with the biblical God; and further, to evaluate the implications this question may have with regard to understanding the role and significance of the unavoidably thematising discourse of theology, which Levinas calls “the intellection of the biblical God”. In this regard, it is of particular interest that the “revelatory” character of the relation of love and justice features in Christian theology with similar prominence in the work of Saint Augustine. In order to provide a basic framework, therefore, through which both the opportunities and difficulties in approaching revelation through the relation of love and justice can be examined, the thesis begins with a succinct analysis of Augustine’s account which, despite the opportunity it presents and its continuing relevance, nonetheless can be shown to rely upon a Neo-Platonic mode of metaphysics, and thus on certain philosophical and cosmological commitments that are difficult to reconcile with the contemporary mindset. We will suggest that Levinas’s account provides an opportunity to return to the relation of love and justice for approaching revelation but in a new way, insofar as his account of the “breach” that leads to God formulates a model of “intelligibility” for revelation, a model in which the “welcome” given to the other person gives witness of a heteronomous command that is obeyed before it is understood. We will also suggest that such an approach creates an indispensable ethical ground for theology to engage with the biblical God.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available