This essay aims to give an overview of the topic ethics and literature in Stanley Cavell’s complete oeuvre. It argues that Cavell’s preoccupation with literature is, from beginning to end, primarily ethical, even though he takes his point of departure in epistemological skepticism. Recent research on the affinities between Cavell’s early writing on Shakespearean tragedy and the ethics of Emmanuel Levinas has helped to establish this but the question of how this part of Cavell’s work is related to his later development of Emersonian perfectionism is rarely touched upon. Consequently, this essay further argues that skepticism and perfectionism in Cavell’s thinking are two sides of one and the same ethics, which are bound together by the genre of romanticism. While Cavell’s work on skepticism is primarily concerned with the other, his work on perfectionism is primarily concerned with the self. Finally, this essay marks the point where Cavell’s and Levinas’ overall thinking part ways due to the fact that Cavell embraces Emersonian perfectionism.
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