1st Edition

Ethics New Trajectories in Law

By Louis Wolcher Copyright 2021
    128 Pages 5 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    128 Pages 5 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    This book examines ethics at the intersection of law and justice. If law and justice are concerned with collectively establishing the general terms on which the plurality called "we" share the earth as social beings, then ethics concerns the individual Self’s particular moral relationship with the Other. Law, the acknowledged offspring of politics, represents the kind of might that most people accept as legitimate, at least most of the time. Justice, on the other hand, is supposed to vigilantly stand guard over law: to protect us against its biases and excesses, or, at the very least, to rise up and reproach the law whenever it permits or encourages injustice. But what if the belief that a particular legally-authorized state of affairs is "just" – a common enough feeling, especially amongst the privileged – or even "unjust" and in need of correction, were itself in need of a vigilant guardian? This book argues that ethics can and should stand guard over whatever image of justice and/or just law one happens to believe in. The book thus attempts to steer a perilous course between two looming moral hazards: ethics interpreted as the rational production of ethically correct behavior (as in Kant) and ethics interpreted as the spontaneous eruption of pre-rational compassion for the suffering of the Other, come what may (as in Levinas). In the end, the book characterizes ethical life in the law as the more-or-less constant experience of the paradoxical nature of this choice – a feeling of inescapable personal responsibility for the fate of the Other. Based on the author’s well-established expertise in the area, this book will appeal to students, scholars and others with interests in legal theory and moral and political philosophy.


    List of Figures


    1. Towards an Ethics Writ Large

    On ethics writ small

    Introducing the possibility of an ethics writ large

    Telling and urging

    In the beginning was the deed

    Beginning at the ending

    2 From Ethōs to Ethics

    From custom to character to duty

    The codependency of Is and Ought as an elective affinity

    The untranslatability of metaphysical statements in ethics

    Three cases: compassionless reason, reasonable compassion, and

    reason versus compassion

    3 The Burden of Caring

    The leading question

    Towards a phenomenological interpretation of reason and compassion in ethics

    "Gninnigeb eht ta nigeb" – George Oppen

    Responsibility versus presponsibility : herein of Levinas

    The politics of ethics writ large

    4 Ethical Doubts about Justice

    The hope for justice

    The force of law

    Justice’s guardianship over law

    The shabbiness of law compared with the wonderfulness of justice

    The problem of fidelity to law in a relativistic age

    The customary agreeableness of justice

    The suspicious wordiness of reason

    5 Concluding Anecdote about the Difference between Ambiguity and Treachery

    "But this is a pipe": a law professor’s anecdote

    The indeterminacy thesis


    The treachery of ambiguity versus the ambiguity of treachery

    The ethics of self-treachery




    Louis E. Wolcher is the Charles I. Stone Professor Emeritus at the University of Washington Law School.