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PG Work in Progress Seminar
Speaker: Zak Stinchcombe
Title: 'This Moral Vision: Martha Nussbaum and the Novel'
This talk is interested in examining the relations that hold between ethical and literary value with a particular focus on whether they are in tension, do not neatly complement one another, perhaps violently disagree, and so on. Initially we will look at two competing accounts of this tension, namely Ethicism (wherein ethical deficiency, or merit, corresponds to literary deficiency or merit) and Aestheticism (there is no real tension to discuss - aesthetic value and ethical value do not occupy the same space, have nothing to do with one another, that ethical considerations are irrelevant to aesthetic judgements, and so on). Neither account is satisfactory, treating the relationship too superficially. Martha Nussbaum's account of the novel, particularly in the Jamesian novel, points to a deeper, more textured account of the relationship. Quite apart from the ethical and literary value covarying. or else standing independently of one another, Nussbaum argues: 1) novels are themselves works of moral philosophy. 2) it is in novels that one finds the most appropriate articulation of the, or this, moral vision. 3) we can find in novels a paradigm of moral activity. I shall assess the plausibility of these claims, taking into consideration some interpretative ambiguities that exist in her account. I will then be in a position to say something of how this might be applied to the tension we began with. Nussbaum says that there exists a 'dynamic tension between two possible irreconcilable visions...' I agree that this tension exists. Moreover, though, I intend to claim something stronger. The dynamic tension is not merely present; it is an essential component of the relationship between ethical and aesthetic value.