Moral Philosophers and the Novel: A Study of Winch, Nussbaum and Rorty
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In this fascinating study, Peter Johnson makes explicit the issues involved in using the novel as a source in moral philosophy. The book pays close attention to questions of method, aesthetic accounts of the novel and the nature of ethical knowledge. The views of leading philosophers are examined and criticised in the light of the book's distinctive contribution to the current debate.
religious dimension to Melville’s story whose necessity to the development of the narrative we should not doubt. After Budd’s execution, we read that to the sailors of the ﬂeet, a chip of wood from the spar from which his body hung was ‘as a piece of the Cross’.19 We respond to Budd’s spiritual strangeness as an essential part of the novel itself. Indeed, it is hard to imagine that any commonplace virtue, marred by imperfection, would be sufﬁcient to stimulate Claggart’s envy. Surely, then,
way the novelist writes about moral experience is a major part of what draws the philosopher in. In other words, it is only on the basis of what makes the novel unique that we can be said to learn from it at all. But why should the language and shape of the novel make a difference when it is read as an example? Surely, in reading it for an example we are looking for something general, and isn’t this exactly what we expect to ﬁnd when we say of someone that they have learned something? Is it the
Stuart Mill: ‘reciprocity is a piece of gross vulgarity; precisely that something I do may not and could not be done by another. That no balance is possible, that in a deeper sense one never gives back, because one is something unique and does only unique things.’.25 ‘No balance is possible,’ Nietzsche writes, quietly hinting that my relation to Thérèse is not one of equals. Does Thérèse, then, stand to me as Londoners, say, are related to their distant successors, able to beneﬁt or harm them,
is suggestive of contrasting understandings of political morality that come close to deﬁning the modern ethical consciousness. In one view, individuals are of absolute value, to be treated as sovereign, while in the other they are units of collective calculation to be treated consequentially in the interests of the overall good. Societies are ﬁelds of application for theories of social justice determined in advance. Of course, twentieth century politics has given us a standpoint that James could
philosophically. The best way forward, therefore, is through a close examination of those philosophers whose work exempliﬁes radically different ways of reading. It is this work in the current debate that makes their voices distinctive, and so there should be some proﬁt in giving them our attention. Different uses of literature specify different kinds of mediation between ethics and art. In the ﬁrst use I investigate in this book, the Introduction 11 novel serves philosophy as a source of