Edited by Emilios Christodoulidis, Ruth Dukes and Marco Goldoni
Chapter 11: The ethical turn in critical legal thought
The Western tradition categorizes ethics as the attempt to constrain self-interest and passion, including compassion, by means of norms that claim universal validity. However, beginning in the 1990s many critical legal scholars, following the continental philosopher Emmanuel Levinas, have refused to treat ethics in this legalistic manner. Like Schopenhauer, their thought about ethics has traced its origin and power to prerational sources, especially the compassionate impulse to act benevolently in the face of the suffering Other before and beyond any duty imposed by moral rules triggered by a finding of personal fault. Their work turns away from reactionary ethical responsibility (the traditional view) towards a kind of infinite ethical presponsibility, grounded in compassion and a sense of guilt without fault. This chapter explains how this branch of CLS has radically transformed ethical discourse; it also explores the paradoxical and aporetic consequences of this ‘ethical turn’ for law and legal theory.
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