Levinasian Ethics and Interreligious Dialogue

For the weekly Wednesday Forum held on February 10, 2010, a schedule originally arranged for Prof. Mark Woodward, Mr. Roy Allan B. Tolentino, an ICRS student, discussed the “Levinasian Ethics and Interreligious Dialogue” instead. Mr. Ali Amin, MA, acted as moderator. Mr. Tolentino talked about the works of Emmanuel Levinas (1906-1995) which poses as a challenge to traditional ethical systems, in its radical reorientation of subjectivity. The presentation aimed to introduce Levinas and show his ethics that can inform inter-religious dialogue.

Roy divided his presentation into three sections, the first was about the short introduction about ethical theory, the second section was about the biographical sketch of Emanuel Levinas and the third was about the criticism toward Levinas’ thought in seeing interreligious dialogue. In the biography of Levinas and his thought, Mr. Tolentino explained that Emanuel Levinas was a traditional Jewish who was very intellectual. He began his philosophical studies with French Philosopher Maurice Blanchot and his study on Phenomenology under Edmund Husserl. In Germany, he met Martin Heidegger. Levinas became one of the very first French intellectuals who drew attention to Heidegger and Husserl. However, Levinas came to regret his enthusiasm for Heidegger because of the latter’s affinity to the Nazis.

Levinas thought that people’s responsibility for the others was already rooted within human subjective constitution. He argued that everyone would readily agree that it is of the highest importance to know whether humans are not duped with morality. Levinas maintained that subjectivity was formed in and through our subjected-ness to the other. By doing so, his effort was not to move away from traditional attempts to locate the others within our subjectivity. It means that human’s responsibility toward others was not a derivative feature of individual subjectivity, instead an obligation that finds our subjective being-in-the-world by giving it a meaningful direction and orientation.

Under Mr. Tolentino’s presentation, he gave the impression that philosophy is not difficult, lofty and esoteric, since he can clearly elucidate Levina’s thought about ethics in interreligious dialogue.

A lot of questions were addressed to Mr. Tolentino, especially the one when he was asked about how Levina dealt the contestation between individual subjectivity with collectivism in doing interreligious dialogue. What became the sensor and meaning of value in determining the truth in interreligious dialogue, and many other questions and inputs that were responded well by Mr. Tolentino.

Mr. Roy Allan B. Tolentino, or simply called Roy, is Filipino who is presently studying at ICRS as a PhD student. The Wednesday forum ended at 2:30 in the afternoon. The audience gave Mr. Tolentino a warm round of applause for his presentation. The paper he presented is a part of his dissertation research that discusses about Emanuel Levinas’ thought on interreligious dialogue.


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