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Verdict and Sentence: Cover and Levinas on the Robe of Justice

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Few problems are as challenging to Levinas's ethics as the tension or even chiasm that opens between the ethics in relation to the face and the claims of the third. This paper offers a reading of the role of the judge in court as the model for understanding the relation of these two aspects of justice. I make reference to an essay by the legal theorist Robert Cover that explored the violence of the courtroom. He shows how society contains appropriate violence by framing the institutions of the court. Levinas then appears in his repeated citation of a Talmudic text about the judge not facing the defendant in a court. Through a careful reading of the Talmudic text and the Biblical texts upon which it draws, we can see Levinas sorting out the different kinds of responsibility to which the judge responds. The paper ends with a brief reflection on how engaging with the specificity of a text offers new methodological resources for philosophical reflection.

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