Being and nonbeing: The appropriation of the Greek concept of to me on in Jewish thought
Kavka, Martin T.
Doctor of Philosophy
"Being and Nonbeing" is a historical contextualization of Emmanuel Levinas' claim that his thinking is a "meontology," centered around the concept of to me on, nonbeing. It argues that: (a) meontology refers to the interweaving of nonbeing with being, and is thus not a whole-hearted rejection of ontology, and (b) meontology opens up a thinking of the future, which medieval and modern Jewish philosophers have used to justify messianic anticipation. The first two chapters defend Levinasian meontology. Although Levinas sees meontology as rooted in the Platonic notion of the good beyond being, Levinas never addresses the question of why Plato rejects this idea in later dialogues. Plato's Sophist supports reading to me on as the other being, not the transcendent other-than-being. Thus, Emil Fackenheim rightly associates meontology with the Hegelian dialectic that Levinas associates with violence. Levinas' misreading is saved by turning to Husserl's Logical Investigations, and delineating the relationship between being and nonbeing as a non-independent one, entailing an unnamable larger whole. The other being ineluctably refers to the other-than-being. The next two chapters deal with the theme of nonbeing in Maimonides, Cohen, Rosenzweig, and Levinas. Maimonides deduces a teleological arc of existence from Greek accounts of to me on: nonbeing is recast as not-yet-being. The modernists highlight the ethical consequences of this teleology: the unveiling of the ethical core of the self which lies in correlation with the divine achieves messianic redemption. In this meontological interpretation of messianic anticipation, the Messiah is every ethically responsible Jewish individual. However, in Maimonides, Rosenzweig, and to a lesser extent Cohen, ethics risks becoming merely an instrument of messianic anticipation; only in Levinas, for whom the revelation of teleology is written on the body of the Other, does ethics bear an intrinsic goodness. The final chapter shows that the meontological slippage between the responsible Jew and the Messiah is found in a rabbinic text, Pesikta Rabbati 34, and that this text can be used to critique recent writings of Derrida.
Philosophy of Religion