Philosophical Research

My doctorate is in philosophy, and I continue to blog and write scholarly books and articles in ethics and political philosophy. My publications include:

Reforming the Humanities: Literature and Ethics from Dante Through Modern Times (Palgrave, 2009)

This book combines contemporary ethical theory, literary interpretation, and historical narrative to defend a view of the humanities as a source of moral guidance. Peter Levine argues that moral philosophers should interpret narratives and literary critics should adopt moral positions. His new analysis of Dante’s story of Paolo and Francesca sheds new light on the moral advantages and pitfalls of narratives versus ethical theories and principles.

Levine has written an erudite, balanced, insightful book integrating moral philosophy and literary interpretation. His choice of Dante’s story of Francesca and Paolo is inspired, enabling him to illustrate his methodological and substantive points with a literary masterpiece. If anyone doubts that literature is ethical or that ethics can benefit from literature, this book will prove him wrong. I see here the beginnings of a new and promising humanistic discipline–narrative ethics.”

–Colin McGinn, Professor of Philosophy, University of Miami

“The virtues of this book are many: it makes clear and compelling arguments for moderate particularism and historicism in moral reasoning, it deftly shows how Dante himself pursued these goals despite his own penchant for moral universalism, it generously but insistently illustrates the limitations of extremity (in particularism, historicism, and also universalism) through wide-ranging references to periods in art, literature, music, and philosophy, and it finally allies itself with a still burgeoning humanistic revival led by literary critics and moral philosophers. The author’s learnedness and intellectual curiosity are on display on every page. Philosophers and literary critics have much more to learn from each other right now. In the humanities, we dwell too much on what to read and how to read, but too little on why to read. This book offers a distinctive and compelling answer to that last question.”

–Daniel S. Malachuk, Western Illinois University and author of Perfection, the State, and Victorian Liberalism

Nietzsche and the Modern Crisis of the Humanities

This was originally my dissertation, in which I argued that Nietzsche held relativist views that made moral truth appear impossible; but he made a basic mistake in arriving at this nihilistic position. His mistake was to hold a particular theory of “culture” that cannot be valid. I argued that the same error (and the same unfortunate conclusions) can also be detected in the work of post-structuralists, especially Jacques
Derrida, and in the thought of the German-American conservative thinker Leo Strauss. I claimed that Strauss was an esoteric Nietzschean, a theme that I also used in my novel.
Available from Amazon .

Living Without Philosophy: On Narrative, Rhetoric, and Morality

Drawing on implications from ethics, theology, law, politics, and education, this book argues that we can decide what is right by describing particular cases in detail, without the aid of ethical theories and principles. Instead, we can judge particular cases by describing the relevant circumstances in detail. When our judgments differ, we can decide how to act by deliberating under fair conditions. I provide both a philosophical argument for this position and readings of literary texts in which moral theorists are portrayed as concrete characters. These works include Plato’s Protagoras, selections from the Gospels and Dante, Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy, the debate between Erasmus and Luther, Erasmus’s Praise of Folly, Shakespeare’s King Lear, Nabokov’s Lolita, and Martin Luther King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail. I offer essentially a moral argument for the humanities, discussing the implications not only for ethics, but also for theology, law, politics, and education. Available from Amazon.

“Levine draws the contrast between the ‘pragmatist’ position and the ‘philosophical’ position so that the reader understands exactly what separates them. I particularly appreciated his close readings of primary texts. Each was detailed and persuasive. Levine’s writing is free of academic jargon and affectation, making it very available to a general audience.”
— Zev Trachtenberg, University of Oklahoma

“Living Without Philosophy is very well written, clear, and easy to read. It relates previous debates in the history of ideas to contemporary issues in an enlightening and unusual way and its topic is centrally relevant to current debates about the proper nature of moral theory.”

— Jonathan Dancy, University of Reading

Articles on philosophical themes:

“An Ethical Turn for the Humanities,” in Rethinking the Humanities: Paths and Challenges, edited by Ricardo Gil Soeiro and Sofia Tavares (Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing: 2012), pp. 129-142.

“Reforming the Humanities: The Ethical Interpretation of Stories,” Intellectual News (the review of the International Society for Intellectual History), vol. 16 (2010), pp. 110-112

“Keats Against Dante: The Sonnet on Francesca da Rimini,” Keats-Shelley Journal, vol. LI (2002), pp. 76-93

Why Dante Damned Francesca da Rimini,” Philosophy & Literature, vol. 23 (October, 1999), pp. 334-350

“Nietzsche and the Greeks,” The International Journal of the Classical Tradition, Spring 1998, pp. 527-529

Lolita and Aristotle’s Ethics,” Philosophy and Literature, volume 19, number 1 (April, 1995), pp. 32-47

Five entries for the Norton Dictionary of Modern Thought, edited by Alan Bullock and Stephen Trombley (“Will to Power,” “Eternal Return,” “Ubermensch,” “Last Man,” and “Master Morality/Slave Morality”)