This article explores the intersection of literature and philosophy in order to present a reworked textual ethics for the twenty-first century. Tracing over the last thirty years a remarkable philosophical engagement with the ethical imperative of literary criticism, the “turn to ethics” it is argued has largely settled into two competing critical camps: a neo-Aristotelian, narrative ethics on the one hand, and an other-oriented, deconstructive ethics on the other. But by bringing into productive tension for the first time the major works of two of the most significant ethical philosophers, Martha Nussbaum and Emmanuel Levinas (representing the “Analytic” and “Continental” forms of knowledge respectively), this study reveals in their mutual engagement of the textual encounter “language as a way of touching a human being,” and thereby proposes an ethical criticism open to new forms of community and social possibility.

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