Self and Other in Lewis and Levinas

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I have only scratched the surface of the thought of either Lewis or Levinas. But it’s clear enough that, with all the differences in their language and the general orientation of their thought, there are also profound similarities. I earlier attributed those similarities to their acquaintance with the philosophical tradition. But more important, I think, is the influence of the Bible and of their keen observation of human experience.

Though Levinas emphasizes our ethical relationship with others while Lewis speaks more directly of our relationship with God, that difference in emphasis may not be as important as it seems. Lewis writes about both this world and the world beyond this one in which our feeble attempts to transcend ourselves can be fulfilled if we put ourselves in God’s hands. Levinas emphasizes the present world but sees God as very much at work here. When Levinas asserts that God manifests himself in the faces of others, calling us to service and responsibility, what he says is not far from Jesus’s own teaching that when we encounter and serve others, even “the least of his brethren,” we are serving him. For both Lewis and Levinas, our becoming true selves is an activity that amounts to a continual offering, a continual being beyond ourselves, what both refer to as a kind of continual dying and being reborn. Both affirm that to be truly ourselves-to attain the highest kind of meaning, reality, and fulfillment-we must offer ourselves and be beyond ourselves so as to exist in a deeply significance sense in and for others.

Works Cited

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