Saturday, May 01, 2010

“From this I reach…philosophy”

from Virginia Woolf, Moments of Being:

“The shock-receiving capacity is what makes me a writer. I hazard the explanation that a shock is at once in my case followed by the desire to explain it. I feel that I have had a blow, but it is not, as I thought as a child, simply a blow from an enemy hidden behind the cotton wool of daily life; it is or will become a revelation of some order; it is a token
of some real thing behind appearances; and I make it real by putting it into words. It is only by putting it into words that I make it whole; this wholeness…gives me…a great delight. …Perhaps this is the strongest pleasure known to me. It is the rapture I get when in writing I seem to be discovering what belongs to what. …From this I reach what I might call philosophy; at any rate a constant idea of mine; that behind the cotton wool is hidden a pattern. …This intuition of mine—it is so instinctive that it seems given to me, not made by me—has certainly given its scale to my life. …One is living all the time in relation to certain background…conceptions. Mine is that there is a pattern hid behind the cotton wool. And this conception affects me every day. I prove this, now, by spending the morning writing. …I feel that by writing I am doing what is far more necessary than anything else. All artists I suppose feel something like this. It is one of the obscure elements in life that has never been much discussed. It is left out in almost all biographies and autobiographies.”

quoted by John Kekes, Enjoyment.

A while ago, I got enthused by a review of Enjoyment: the moral
significance of styles of life
; checked the book out of the library as soon as it was available; but didn’t begin reading it until today. Kekes’ work is corroborative; it’ll be good supplementation to what I’m developing.

But I’m decidedly enamored with a different sense of what’s “moral,” especially finding important differences between ethical and moral sense (as do important others), which Kekes understands in terms of desire to supplement standard moral sense (i.e., too-constraining moralism) with an appreciation for the value of living well that he regards as higher moral value. He wants to amplify The Moral, rather than see appropriate (and essential) differences between ethical life (omni-temporal) and moral sense (social world), which I see (while I agree nonetheless that there’s highly valid moral sense beyond standard moralism or “morality”). Not only can especially-moral sense have higher validity than commonly understood (e.g., perhaps, in some high sense of humanistic union), but so too for ethical sense (such that differences between moral and ethical sense become all the more appealing, maybe compelling).

I’m seeking to amplify The Ethical, in light of my own influences and thinking, which I’ve only begun to express. Kekes appears to reduce standard moral sense to moralism in order to amplify moral sense, thereby somewhat including “my” ethical sense, but as amplification of “moral” sense without a basically different sense of ethical life.

So, I easily see his work as complementary to what I’m doing, but I prefer a primacy of The Ethical, along with neo-Aristotelians (e.g., Bernard Williams, Michael Slote, and important others).

Though Keke’s approach to moral sense doesn’t quite work for me, I’m glad to see that he largely turns to “Literature” (i.e., canonical storiation—“classics”) for pursuit of his analysis of living well. He’s seeking to exemplify the marriage of literary and philosophical interest that I’m after, though I came to his book not yet knowing that this was his approach to enjoyment. “My concentration on literary attempt to show why the connection between literature and moral thought is essential.” But Literature also well serves a high differentiation of existential, ethical life from social, moral sense. Literature allows for a holism of lifeworldliness that is the alpha and omega of existential (or self actualizing) relevance. Keke’s employment of literary sensibility for higher moral sense actually better serves a heightening of differences between ethical life and moral sense.
Literature....shows individuals with distinct characters in particular contexts struggling to face significant choices, making them well or badly, and living with the consequences. Such accounts show how choices follow from character and context, and they show it in complex detail, often from different points of view of a dispassionate observer and of the person making the significant choice. They show readers...what reasons the choosers believed themselves to have; why they acted or failed to act as real or imagined reasons guided them; how false beliefs, overwrought or suppressed emotions, and misunderstood motives led them to make the wrong choices; and what prevented them from recognizing that character and context severely limited their choices.
[pp. 262-3]