Responsibility and revision: a Levinasian argument for the abolition of capital punishment

Continental Philosophy Review 44 (1):41-64 (2011)
Most readers believe that it is difficult, verging on the impossible, to extract concrete prescriptions from the ethics of Emmanuel Levinas. Although this view is largely correct, Levinas’ philosophy can, with some assistance, generate specific duties on the part of legal actors. In this paper, I argue that the fundamental premises of Levinas’ theory of justice can be used to construct a prohibition against capital punishment. After analyzing Levinas’ concepts of justice, responsibility, and interruption, I turn toward his scattered remarks on legal institutions, arguing that they enable a sense of interruption specific to the legal domain. It is here that we find the conceptual resources most important to my Levinasian abolition. I argue that the interruption of legal justice by responsibility implies what I call the principle of revisability. The principle of revisability states a necessary condition of just legal institutions: To be just, legal institutions must ensure the possibility of revising any and all of their rules, principles, and judgments. From this, the argument against capital punishment easily follows. Execution is a legal act, perhaps the only legal act, that cannot be undone. An application of the principle of revisability to this fact leads to the conclusion that legal institutions cannot justly impose capital punishment. After defending these points at length, I conclude with some observations on the consequences of the principle of revisability for law more generally
Keywords capital punishment  death penalty  Emmanuel Levinas  Continental Philosophy  criminal law
Categories (categorize this paper)
DOI 10.1007/s11007-011-9167-8
 Save to my reading list
Follow the author(s)
My bibliography
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Revision history Request removal from index
Download options
PhilPapers Archive Benjamin Yost, Responsibility and revision: a Levinasian argument for the abolition of capital punishment
External links
Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library
References found in this work BETA
John Rawls (2009/2005). A Theory of Justice. In Steven M. Cahn (ed.), Philosophy and Rhetoric. Oxford University Press 133-135.
Lawrence B. Solum (2004). Procedural Justice. Southern California Law Review 78:181.

View all 11 references / Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

No citations found.

Add more citations

Similar books and articles
Benjamin S. Yost (2011). The Irrevocability of Capital Punishment. Journal of Social Philosophy 42 (3):321-340.
Thomas W. Satre (1991). Human Dignity and Capital Punishment. Journal of Philosophical Research 16:233-250.

Monthly downloads

Added to index


Total downloads

153 ( #14,264 of 1,726,249 )

Recent downloads (6 months)

26 ( #36,054 of 1,726,249 )

How can I increase my downloads?

My notes
Sign in to use this feature

Start a new thread
There  are no threads in this forum
Nothing in this forum yet.