A Possible Levinasian Theory of Action

Much of the problem which keeps Levinasian ethics from becoming a viable moral program is the fact that, for Levinas, all actions are, in essence, defined by the priority of ethics. This means that all acts—even those that we find quite offensive— are in principle ethical. In this guise, ethics loses any action-guiding force and remains merely descriptive of the way things happen to be, which is to say that ethics ceases to have any ethical import in the traditional sense.
Yet, the questions of prescription does occur in Levinas’ work and nowhere does it emerge with more force than in his discussions of the law. If not within the scope of ethics, normativity in the traditional sense—that is, as concerned with the regulation and governance of actions—makes its presence felt in our author’s account of the acceptance and obedience of the law. In the context of these discussions, which can be found in his major works and are the very substance of his Talmudic commentaries, we find Levinas making certain claims that seem to entail some account of action-guiding principles. As a matter of fact, it is precisely in the context of the elucidation of the relation between the Same and the law that Levinas comes closer to explaining the possible relation between his articulation of the primordiality of ethics and the uptake of and obedience to prescription entailed in the deliberation and performance of the law. On account of this, I want argue that any possible elucidation of a Leivnasian moral theory is strictly dependent on the successful adumbration of a Levinasian theory of law because it is there where both his ethical metaphysics and his implicit account of normativity share address.