Transcendence and Evil

  • Emmanuel Levinas
Part of the Analecta Husserliana book series (ANHU, volume 14)


The attempt to throw doubt on the very meaning of words such as “transcendence” and “beyond” attests to their semantic consistency, since, at least in this critical discourse which concerns them, one recognizes what one is contesting. The reduction of the absolute meaning of these terms to a relative transcendence and a relative beyond, then taken, by the force of some impulse, to the furthest extent and highest degree, already brings transcendence and the beyond into this superlative, or ascribes a transcending power to certain of our psychological forces. And yet is there not lacking something in the intelligibility of these notions, for them to be veritably conceived? In our philosophical tradition veritable thought is true thought, a knowing, a thought referred to being — to being designating an entity, but also to being understood as a verb, expressing the fulfillment by entities of that task or destiny of being, without which we could not recognize an entity as an entity.


Pure Reason Biblical Text Ontological Difference Semantic Consistency Psychological Force 
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  1. 1.
    Job et l’exces du Mal (Paris: Grasset, 1978).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Cf. my attempt at phenomenology in this direction in ‘Le temps et 1’autre,’ in Le Choix, le Monde, l’Existence ( Paris: Arthaud, 1948 ), pp. 162–69.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    This “boldness” also is missing in Buber, to whom the discovery of the I-Thou relation immediately appears as a new mode of being - The Thou of God being only a more intense way of being. The divinity of God thus loses itself in its mode of existence, which would be the final meaning of its epiphany, as it is of the disclosed world.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Nemo would not like the formula “ethics precedes ontology” for still another reason. He, like almost all contemporary philosophers, identifies the ethical with the Law (which is a consequence of it), whereas evil which awakens us to the You of God would be precisely the contestation of the Law and of the technological spirit which, for Nemo, is bound to it: the morality of Law would be for him but a technique to attract to one-self recompenses and avoid punishments. We think that ethics primarily signifies obligation toward the other, that it leads to the Law and to gratuitous service, which is not a principle of technique. 165Google Scholar
  5. 7.
    These dimensions, according to Husserl’s teaching reproduced in Experience and Judgment, start with the position of an individual substrate extracted from the back-ground of the world, a substrate exposed to the “passive syntheses” of explication and “modalization” of belief in which this position takes place. These synthesis are then taken up again in the categorical activity of judgment properly so-called. They are dimensions of the affirmation of an entity in its being and in its properties, assembled into synthesis and into a system: a coherent universe without background worlds, a reign of the Same without any “other scene.”Google Scholar

Copyright information

© D. Reidel Publishing Company 1983

Authors and Affiliations

  • Emmanuel Levinas
    • 1
  1. 1.University of Paris IVFrance

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