Philosophy ETDs

Publication Date



I present a novel interpretation of Emmanuel Levinas's phenomenology wherein I argue that his seemingly antagonistic and exclusive notions of "totality" and "infinity" are best understood, rather, as symbiotic, interdependent, and mutually conditioning. My demarche uses close textual analysis, constant reference to Levinas's (admittedly sparse) comments on philosophical method, and an important return to, and then departure from, Cartesian thought in order to advance my thesis that infinity and totality are essentially intertwined and "symbiotic." As such, they are not essentially opposed in any sort of preferential, evaluative, or eliminative sense, to name some prominent (and misguided) caricatures that regrettably pervade many aspects of Levinas scholarship, whether pro or contra Levinas. I use this insight to show that certain Levinas commentators misunderstand the meaning of, and relationship between, "totality" and "infinity." Lastly, as against those who claim that Levinas essentially has no philosophical argument in such works as Totality and Infinity, I show that Levinas's argumentative rigor and strategy is best understood by way of a carefully nuanced and textually documented interpretation of the way that "infinity conditions totality.

Degree Name


Level of Degree


Department Name


First Advisor

Thomson, Iain

First Committee Member (Chair)

Bussanich, John

Second Committee Member

Taber, John

Third Committee Member

Bishop, Steve




Levinas, Emmanuel--Criticism and interpretation, Phenomenology, Infinite, Whole and parts (Philosophy)

Document Type