Ethics : New Trajectories in Law book cover
1st Edition

New Trajectories in Law

ISBN 9780367356545
Published December 30, 2020 by Routledge
128 Pages 5 B/W Illustrations

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Book Description

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.

Table of Contents


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



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