Date of Award

Spring 2014

Document Type

Restricted Thesis

Terms of Use

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Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


Religion Department

First Advisor

Mark I. Wallace


Deeply influenced by the work of Fyodor Dostoevsky, French philosopher Emmanuel Levinas was fond of quoting Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, especially its insistence that “we are all responsible for everyone else—but I am more responsible than all the others.” Coupled with its musings on humility, transcendence, and deep intimacy, the novel’s discussions of absolute responsibility put forth a distinct philosophy of human interrelatedness that Dostoevsky termed “active love.” Unique in its call for individuals to engage in unending, self-sacrificial commitment to all humankind, Dostoevsky’s theory of active love is not unlike Levinas’ own argument that the human subject is ethically obligated to the Other. Yet despite active love’s overarching influence on his philosophy, Levinas’ fondness for The Brothers Karamazov and this quote in particular has led many scholars to focus solely on his appropriation of Dostoevskian liability and ignore his incorporation of Dostoevsky’s other ideals. The following paper seeks to remedy such scholarly oversight by tracing the extent to which Dostoevsky’s philosophy of active love helped shape Levinas’ ethical thought. In a departure from previous scholarship on the subject, I argue that Levinas’ system of ethics is an outgrowth of Dostoevsky’s theory of active love as a whole and that Dostoevsky’s discussions of proximity and intimacy, transcendence and immortality, and obligation and guilt have all played a role in shaping Levinas’ philosophy in Totality and Infinity.