Levinas is famous for calling ethics 'first philosophy' and giving it precedence over ontology, aesthetics and so on. However his ethical theory is cast in a (utterly shite) ontological language. He makes no attempt to follow Aristotle into a proper study of the logic of deontics- i.e. practical reason. He chose to remain ignorant of any method of studying reciprocity. Ultimately his instrumental value- as a sermonizer- was utterly vitiated by his failure to recognize that the other might actually belong to a different ethnicity or religion. In short, his was not an ethics, in any real sense of the words, but just bad ontology disguised as high falutin moralizing. He wasn't a great student of Halachah either- but always had some silly tendentious take on it which gave the impression he might actually be a saint far above the common run of humanity.
Levinas was not the first thinker to insist that Man's spirituality is founded upon the needs and vulnerabilities of the 'other'. As a matter of fact, no traditional religion has failed to make the same point- including the Mussar movement within Judaisim. However, Levinas was captivated by silly ontology, shallow politics, an illiterate history of ideas, and he totally failed to engage with a scientific theory of moral sentiments, a rational analysis of economics and politics- in other words the guy spent his entire life in an intellectual pig sty rolling around in that muck and then hollering that this aint ethics- it does not help the widow, the orphan, the stranger.
The result of Levinas's failure to look at how using your brains can help other people- rather than get you a Professorship in a pigsty- is that he got to propound an ethics which doesn't actually do any good to anyone ever. Rather it is all just a holier than thou mystification and wallowing in moral superiority- that crowds out genuine altruism and confuses every issue.
Never has so much intellectual attention been given to an ethical theory which has done fuck all to actually help anyone anywhere ever.
Yet Levinas is great. Why?
Well, by dedicating himself to 'deformalizing' time- rendering it multi-dimensionally infinite and dense with inconceivably high Cantor cardinality in the neighborhood of 'the Other'- Levinas has realized the ultimate ambition of every Creeping Jesus and Politically Correct windbag to crowd out everything in the Universe except the spectacle of his or her own quivering sensitivity and all round general wonderfulness- without, of course, doing anything for anyone ever.
Does this deformalization actually temporalize ethics? No, it removes any possible time limit on this limitless slavering over the wounds and vulnerabilities or 'the other'- who would be well advised to start shooting at the do-gooders coz being slavered over by those bleeding hearts is like painting a bullseye on your back. TO BE LEVINAS'S OTHER IS A FATE WORSE THAN DEATH. To accept the role of the other is to destroy the basis of your self-respect and group cohesion. It is to bend over and drop your trousers. So what should you do? Shoot at the fucker if he comes near you.
Of course, in the context of the massacre of Palestinians in the camps in Lebanon, Levinas put forward the notion that these guys weren't 'the other'. Good for him. However bad things are for Palestinians at the moment- being 'the other' for a Levinasite would have destroyed their ethos for all time. Rather than being known as a hardworking people with a great commitment to higher education- they would be drunkards and prostitutes dying out from syphilis while periodically whining for handouts at International Conferences organized for the purpose of parading their decrepitude.
In attacking Levinas I mean no disrespect to the Judaism of the Rabbis- it was and is a practical creed- keep the pi jaw out of it and sooner or later an accommodation will be reached in the 'Holy Land'.
The fact is, to really temporalise ethics is to....urm... to get involved, to negotiate, to do business, make friends, share a meal... like, get a life already. It isn't about erecting alterity into an altar to the God that is one's own infinite conceit in being Holier Than Any Guy That Ever Fucking Lived.
What on earth does caring for the Other have to do with writing crap books?
But what, if not writing crap books, is ethics about? Answer- it's about changing one's ethos- what one is for oneself- so that life becomes richer, fuller, more meaningful- MORE SPIRITUAL. Yeah God stuff. Nothing wrong with God. Nothing right about Levinas.