Explores the fundamental confrontations between Spinoza and Levinas in ethics, politics, science, and religion.
After the end of superstitious religion, what is the meaning of the world? Baruch Spinoza’s answer is truth, Emmanuel Levinas’s is goodness: science versus ethics. In Out of Control, Richard A. Cohen brings this debate to life, providing a nuanced exposition of Spinoza and Levinas and the confrontations between them in ethics, politics, science, and religion.
Spinoza is the control, the inexorable defensive logic of administrative rationality, where freedom is equated to necessity—a seventeenth-century glimpse of Orwellian doublespeak and Big Brother. Levinas is the way out: transcendence not of God, being, and logic but of the other person experienced as moral obligation. To alleviate the suffering of others—nothing is more important! Spinoza wagers everything on mathematical truth, discarding the rest as ignorance and illusion; for Levinas, nothing surpasses the priorities of morality and justice, to create a world in which humans can be human and not numbers or consumers, drudges or robots.
Situating these two thinkers in today’s context, Out of Control responds to the fear of dehumanization in a world flattened by the alliance of positivism and plutocracy. It offers a nonideological ethical alternative, a way out and up, in the nobility of one human being helping another, and the solidarity that moves from morality to justice.
Richard A. Cohen is Professor of Philosophy and Chair of the Department of Jewish Thought at the University at Buffalo, State University of New York. His books include Ricoeur as Another: The Ethics of Subjectivity (coedited with James L. Marsh) and Face to Face with Levinas, both also published by SUNY Press.