[lit-ideas] Re: Moral Imagination

  • From: "Walter C. Okshevsky" <wokshevs@xxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx, John McCreery <john.mccreery@xxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Sat, 8 Oct 2011 14:06:35 -0230

Interesting idea: that we can live the agonies and ecstasies of the moral life
without an awareness of morality itself. And this is supposedly a form of
"moral realism." It sounds more like a form of crass and question-begging
empiricism - i.e., morality is what we have when we recognize the
contradictions and dangers we experience in living the moral life. How do we
know that our reply to the imperative: "Get a (moral) life" - is indeed itself a
moral one

Kant, rightly I believe, refused to accept such empiricism, maintaining that
possibilities for moral judgement and experience themselves presuppose apriori
the self-understanding a rational being has of itself as a form of willing and
practical knowledge governed by moral law. Just as an individual is free for
moral deliberation only if she represents/understands herself to be free (i.e.,
as an agent capable of willing from duty), so is an individual capable of
a life of moral experience and judgement only on the condition that she
understand herself as a capacity/power to autonomously legislate her own
principles of reflection and action as universal laws. Once again, all
understanding of a world of problems, contradictions, etc, is
self-understanding. I think that's right.

Walter Okshevsky

Quoting John McCreery <john.mccreery@xxxxxxxxx>:

> Was taking a break. Arts & Letters Daily took me to a Gertrude Himmelfarb
> review of a new book about Lionel Trilling. I read the following and thought
> instantly of John Wager and his observation that if choices are black and
> white there is no moral judgment to be made.
> Trilling matters, then, Kirsch insists, because literature matters?and
> > literature as Trilling understood it. His novel, The Middle of the
> Journey,
> > has been criticized for creating characters who are merely the spokesmen
> for
> > ideas. The same charge has been levelled against his literary criticism,
> > which is said to treat novels and poems as vehicles for ideas about
> society
> > and politics rather than as aesthetic responses to personal experience.
> > Kirsch counters this objection by elevating Trilling?s literary criticism
> to
> > the ?primary,? ?autonomous? status of literature itself, reflecting the
> same
> > aesthetic sensibility that the novelist or poet brings to experience?and
> > reflecting, too, the ideas about society and politics that are implicit in
> > the novels and poems themselves.
> > Kirsch is treading a fine line. He does not want to reduce Trilling to the
> > role of social or, worse, political commentator. Yet he fully acknowledges
> > the social and political import, even intent, of Trilling?s literary
> > criticism: ?More than any twentieth-century American intellectual,
> Trilling
> > stood for the principle that society and politics cannot be fully
> understood
> > without the literary imagination.? And the literary imagination, for
> > Trilling, was preeminently a ?moral imagination.? Moral imagination?not
> the
> > moralistic dicta or pronouncements evoked in present-day debates about
> > same-sex marriage, abortion, and the like. The true moral imagination
> > transcends such dogmatic moralizing because it is imbued with ?moral
> > realism,? a realism that is ?not the awareness of morality itself but of
> the
> > contradictions, paradoxes, and dangers of living the moral life.?
> > It is this combination of ?moral realism? and ?moral imagination? that was
> > the basis of Trilling?s critique of the ?liberal imagination.? That phrase
> > first appeared in the title of the introductory chapter of his book on  E.
> > M. Forster, ?Forster and the Liberal Imagination?:
> >
> For all his long commitment to the doctrines of liberalism Forster is at war
> > with the liberal imagination. Surely if liberalism has a single desperate
> > weakness, it is an inadequacy of imagination: liberalism is always being
> > surprised. Surprised, because the ?liberal mind? has an unrealistic and
> > simplistic view of morality itself. It thinks that ?good is good and bad
> is
> > bad. . . . Before the idea of good-and-evil its imagination fails.? It
> > cannot accept this ?improbable paradox,? a paradox that such ?great
> > conservative minds? as Johnson, Burke, and Arnold well understood.
> John
> -- 
> John McCreery
> The Word Works, Ltd., Yokohama, JAPAN
> Tel. +81-45-314-9324
> jlm@xxxxxxxxxxxx
> http://www.wordworks.jp/

This electronic communication is governed by the terms and conditions at
To change your Lit-Ideas settings (subscribe/unsub, vacation on/off,
digest on/off), visit www.andreas.com/faq-lit-ideas.html

Other related posts: