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date: 14 November 2019

Abstract and Keywords

This essay considers Anglo-American tort law in light of Emmanuel Levinas’s thinking about ethics and responsibility. The piece introduces the common law’s understanding of negligence and the duty of care through a close reading of Palsgraf v. Long Island Railroad Co., one of the most famous cases in American tort law. It then critically examines the case and the leading theories of tort law—economic, corrective justice, and civil recourse—from a Levinasian perspective. It concludes by proposing a framework for a Levinasian approach to tort law, drawing on Levinas’s understanding of ethics, politics, and justice in his later period. The essay defends Levinas’s notion of justice as the activity of remaking ethics in politics, as a provisional attempt to balance competing and incommensurate demands with an eye toward achieving the moral equality persons under the law.

Keywords: Levinas, torts, ethics, law, justice, responsibility, negligence, duty of care, civil recourse, Palsgraf

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