Electronic Theses and Dissertations



Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Committee Chair

Mary Beth Mader

Committee Member

Thomas Nenon

Committee Member

Kas Saghafi

Committee Member

Daniel Smith

Committee Member

Robert Bernasconi


This dissertation is concerned with what it means to grant ethics primacy in a way that does not ultimately give way to the primacy of ontology. To this end, I draw on the work of Immanuel Kant, Gilles Deleuze, and Emmanuel Levinas. In Chapter I, I argue that Kants primacy of practical reason gives us a promising framework for understanding primacy, but one that ultimately fails insofar as Kant makes the relation between practical and theoretical reason a relation of equality rather than one of primacy. In Chapter II, I argue that although Deleuze recognizes the need to elevate a certain understanding of ethics, a close reading of his comments on ethics (especially in The Logic of Sense) reveals that ethics is elevated for ontological purposes, and thus, the primacy of ethics is reducible to the primacy of ontology. In the remainder of the dissertation, I turn to the work of Emmanuel Levinas. In Chapter III, I give close readings of key passages in Totality and Infinity and Otherwise than Being, or Beyond Essence to show how the terms ethics and primacy function in those texts. Ultimately, I argue that there are two operative notions of primacy in Levinas work, which I call constitutive primacy, and ethical primacy. In Chapter IV, I suggest that constitutive primacy closely resembles Heideggers account of priority in Being and Time, and thus precludes Levinas from sufficiently departing from the prevailing Heideggerian paradigm he sought to leave. I then argue that the turn from Heidegger was simultaneously a turn towards Kant, as Levinas often cites Kants account of primacy as inspiration for his later account of meaning. However, unlike Kant, Levinas does not reduce the primacy of ethics over ontology to the equality of ethics and ontology, but rather treats ontology as subordinate to ethics. This, I argue, counts as a fully ethical understanding of the primacy of ethics. That is, the notion of primacy associated with the primacy of ethics is itself an ethical concept, and thus, unlike Kant and Deleuze, Levinas (especially in his later work) elevates ethics for ethical reasons.


Data is provided by the student.

Library Comment

Dissertation or thesis originally submitted to ProQuest


Open Access