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The Problem of the use of Force by Justice in Levinas`Philosophy Essay Sample

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Introduction of TOPIC


             Force has been the main medium of law in enforcing the rights of each person as well as the way in which law itself implies punishment for the ones avoiding the necessities of following the rules of life and living. At times, this same force, referred to as violence by other philosophers is the one believed by many law enforcers to be the very medium to bring about peace to humanity.

             THE deadly use of force has been a constant feature of man’s history. By one estimate, probably 170,000,000 people have been murdered in the 20th century by their own political regimes. It is vital to understand that the ability to use force is a critical element of government. An administration that cannot enforce its decrees is, in effect, powerless. This fact is the reason why many questions the use of force as it is applied in attaining justified results through the law.

            In line with this, the continuous legitimacy of the use of force in the application of justice had been going on for years. Tolstoy’s “Requirement of Love” points out that the ways of love is the ways of non-violence. Hence making it clear that a justice based on love and concern for the one erred shouldn’t be an application of violent punishment. (As cited by Peter Atterton, In Defense of Violence)

            Emmanuel Levinas, A French philosopher also commented on this matter. Although not the same to that of Tolstoy’s philosophy, Levinas puts force as a justifiable matter of law. It is to him, a vital part in the implication of lawful rules in aiming the possibilities of having a straight forward community. His idealism on the matter points out that “if force is used as a means of implying peace for the community, then force itself is justified” (Levinas, 1977).

            In this regard, the legitimacy of this idealism has been questioned by many churches as well as other philosophers. The importance then of its close analysis should be carried through. To start with, an investigation of the roots of this idealism should be discussed.

The Roots of Levinas’ Philosophy

            Being a member of the French Army, Emmanuel Levinas had been subjected to seeing the major results of injustices around the world, especially during the years of the Nazi Assault. The actual events of people being killed in front of him without being able to fight for their rights to live has been a reason why he developed a longing for justice.

            As a fact, his wife and his daughter died too during those tumultuous times of war. HE wasn’t able to defend them though he believes that as an Army man he has a power to do so. The concept of “an eye for an eye” mainly helped him derive the thoughts regarding the use of force in implying justice. It is thus true that having force as a basis of lawful punishment could at least if not cease then lessen the possibilities of violent crimes happening in the community.

            His writing style has been inclined to symbolisms of the real elements of the society. For this reason, simply reading his written works is not enough. A deeper and analytical understanding towards his idealisms should be applied to be able to understand what he intends to send as a message.

The use of Force for the Sake of Justice

            Mohandas Gandhi, who was renowned for his abhorrence of violence, once stated: “Suppose a man runs amuck and goes furiously about, sword in hand, and killing anyone that comes in his way, and no one dares capture him alive. Anyone who dispatches this lunatic will earn the gratitude of the community and be regarded as a benevolent man.”(Awake 1982)

            In support to this thought of a just application of force, Levinas points out in the article entitled “ Judaism and Revolution”, that “it is not only a question of seizing the evil-doer but also of not making the innocent suffer” (As cited by Peter Atterton, In Defense of Violence)

            This merely points out that the implication of force in order to stop the continuous chain of violence is a just move of punishment. Obviously, the ability to apply force is a necessary element of any stable society. This is why this certain topic about the concerns of law meets a lot of challenges when it comes to ethical acceptance. As for example, the use of Lethal Injection or Electrocution as a way of punishing through death penalty against an accused criminal, receives a lot of criticism as to how it should be accepted in the society. For many church officials, they consider it as an anti-humanism move of the law against convicted criminals. Since almost every church considers that a person is still liable of changing his ways, which is a strong reason why he must be allowed to continue living.

            On the contrary, many law-enforcers believe the idealism proposed by Levinas, that in order to cease people from doing crime or committing violence against others, the ones who have already incurred a sin against violence must be punished even though it may mean taking away one’s life just so to implicate the “justified” rules of law.

            Another fact about Levinas’ claims may prove to be contradictory to his own philosophy. He thus says that he does believe in the Biblical lines: “Thou shalt not kill”. This fac

t would be a bit opposite on the thought which he wants to imply

regarding lawful punishment for those who commit violence. As an addition to this, he adds that every person has a definite responsibility to “the-other” which refers to a person not actually the neighbor referred to in the bible, but instead it refers to another person which may be considered as the third party. It the sense of his philosophical claim, he indicates that if incase the third party which is the-other would hurt the neighbor, then the person involved who is either the third or the second party should take full responsibility of the whole crime. In literal terms, this means that in cases wherein a person (which may refer to a law enforcer), would be involved in the violent event which happened between the second person (the victim) and the third person (suspect or accused), the first person should implicate the law, which means the punishment against violence. In terms of force, of course, any person accused may not willingly submit to the punishment but because the law has to be pushed through, a certain “force” may be needed in order for the punishment to be applied. In this way, the violence done would have at least been justified on the part of the victim. In his writings,

Levinas shows that the existence of violence could not be eliminated from the systems that the current rules on law imply. Through centuries of history, man has been proven guilty of committing every possible violent crime. As a result, Levinas says too that love cannot simply overcome this fact. Along with this he also commented on violence in his “Judaism and Revolution”, that “it is not only a question of seizing the evil-doer but also of not making the innocent suffer” (As cited by Peter Atterton, In defense of Justice) . This line simply implies that the usage of force in applying the law against the accused one simply puts a certain protection for both the victims and the future victims more of the said accused person.

            Yes, in this part of Levinas’ statements, he continuously points out that violence itself is inevitable. In these claims, he certainly makes a point that in law, especially in the application of punishment against the “evil-doers” or the ones who are accused of committing violent crimes, the application of force is indeed necessary.

Ethics and Violence

            Ethics per se, means the certain standards of living accepted within the society. When it comes to the application of force in punishment and other law proceedings, certain groups in the society strongly disagrees to this. Basing from their own ethical views, they conclude that punishment with the implication of force is simply a crime against the human rights.

            According to the ethical views regarding “force”, the implication of such thing makes the law a vile institution in the society. And that instead of hatred and punishment, the evil-doer must be dealt with, with love helping him to regain himself and thus change his ways from doing violence to doing good things towards his fellowmen. But Levinas’ statements on his essay “Simone Weil…” he criticized both Christian love and charity, as according to him, love and charity are the main reasons why justice itself has to be existing in the society. . According to him, Love itself brought about justice and yet justice itself observed as a blind institution as it has the responsibility to be impartial, fair between the concerns of both the victim of crime and the accused person. . In this matter, it is concluded by Levinas that in a way, love and charity makes it possible for the third person (or the accused of the violent crime) to be punished and to suffer. as it was said “Justice is from the first violence” (Levinas 1986). Yes, there is nothing to correct justice but justice itself.

            With this he simply puts justice in a way that it is changing, and that it heals itself. This is why once a crime of violence is committed; violence itself could also be the only way in which to cure the said crime. Consequently, anyone given the responsibility to judge a certain person who is accused with a crime must see things clearly and envision the person as a human and not just a sinner against violence itself.

               Still regarding the existence of Charity within the system of the human law, Levinas makes a clear point on how charity is able to balance the lawful systems of punishment. This may include both the balance of love and force in applying punishment to accused persons. The existence of the Universal law mainly shows that charity has a great role in maintaining the balance between law of force and the law of love. It simply indicates that once a judgment has been released against an accused, the factors of reconsideration make the judgment less painful and more acceptable. In this way, charity does not simply balance the judgment; it does make the judgment more justifiable too. As an example, Levinas says that the abolition of the death penalty is a way in which charity has been applied towards those who were accused of erring against the law through violence.

The Bible’s View on Force

            Many enthusiasts of both ethics and law, questions God’s use of force for punishment in the earlier times of the Israelites. This too has been noticed by Levinas through his criticizing works against the bible principles on punishment. Thus a brief discussion on this matter is also needed to give a clearer view of the Bible’s opinion of the application of force in punishing evil doers.

            In many Biblical accounts, force has been used to eliminate evil doers in the earth’s face. History paints a sordid picture of Canaanite life—they were exceedingly wicked. Spiritism, child sacrifice, sadistic violence, and various forms of perverted sex worship were the order of the day. As a God of justice who exacts exclusive devotion, HE could not allow these disgusting practices to disrupt the peace and security of innocent people, especially Israel.

            For example, imagine if the community in which a person lives was without a reputable police force or militia to enforce the laws of the land—would that not lead to anarchy and violence of the worst kind? Similarly, God was compelled to act against the Canaanites because of their licentiousness and the real danger they posed to pure worship. Therefore, he decreed: “The land is unclean, and I shall bring punishment for its error.” (Leviticus 18:25)

            Yes, similar to that of Levinas’ views of the use of force in lawful punishment, the Bible claims that God also sees it as a means by which violence could be ceased as it too would be used as a protection against evil doers attacking his chosen nation Israel.


            The consequences brought about by man’s self-centered characteristics which have been shown through the years of war as well as with the ancient times of Israel, the punishment with applied force has been considered justified to mainly protect the innocent ones from becoming victims of man’s greedy and harmful motives.

            It is then, simply right to conclude that the use of force itself could be justified as much as it used in a right and balanced way. As long as it is not abused by law enforcers, the use of force remains legitimate part of the implication of law.


Bettina Bergo. (2006). Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Emmanuel Levinas.

            http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/levinas/. (August 11, 2006).

Peter Atterton. In Defense of Violence. http://ghansel.free.fr/atterton.html.

             (August 16, 2006).

Lois Shawver. (2005). About Emmanuel Levinas.


             (August 16, 2006).

Peter Atterton and Matthew Calarco. (2004). The Emmanuel Levinas Web Page.

            http://home.pacbell.net/atterton/levinas/.        (August 16, 2006).

Elisabeth Louise Thomas, Thomas L Thomas. (2004). Emanuel Levinas. Routledge

            Publishing. New York. 14-16.

Sean Hand. (1989). The Levinas Reader. Blackwell Publishing Incorporated.

Emmanuel Levinas, Michael B. Smith. (2000). Alterity and Transcendence. Columbia

            University Press. (200-201).

Emmanuel Levinas.  (1977). Totality and Infinity. Paris: Les Editions de Minuit. 202.

 “Is There a God of War?”. (1982). Awake! Watchtower Bible and tract Society.

            Brooklyn New York.

New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures. (1984). Leviticus 18:25.

            Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. Brooklyn New York.

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