From fiction to phronésis : a critical dialogue with Martha Nussbaum on the importance of concrete fictional literature in moral philosophy

Lourens, Hesti (Stellenbosch : University of Stellenbosch, 2010-03)

Thesis (MPhil (Philosophy))--University of Stellenbosch, 2010.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: This study finds its roots in the ancient quarrel, as mentioned by Plato 400 BC, between poets (artists) and philosophers on the nature of our ethical existence. The ancient philosophers participating in the ancient quarrel, such as Plato, had a metaphysical understanding of our existence and they believed that we should communicate about our ethical existence through a style which acknowledges the transcendental nature of our human existence. The styles and language used by the philosophers of the ancient quarrel were therefore often very abstract, and mostly concerned with the rationality of human reasoning. The ancient poets participating in this quarrel, however, did not share the metaphysical worldview of their philosophical rivals. They denied the transcendental nature of our existence, and argued that our ethical existence should be portrayed and communicated through a style which acknowledges the fact that we are humans with a concrete existence. The poets of the ancient quarrel also promoted a style which acknowledges humans as beings with both rational and emotional faculties. It is for this reason that we find today in literature concerned with moral matters, both the abstract style of moral philosophy which is concerned with the rational aspects of our existence, and the concrete style of fictional literature which is concerned with the emotive aspects of our existence. The quarrel on how to communicate about the nature of our ethical existence is, however, an ongoing debate which is still prevalent in our modern times. This study turns to the modern argument of Martha Nussbaum on how to communicate about the nature of our ethical existence. Nussbaum argues that the abstract style of philosophical texts on morality acknowledges the abstract and rational aspects of our human nature and existence, but that it often fails to fully acknowledge the fact that we are concrete human beings for whom emotions play an integral part in our ethical existence. She therefore believes that moral philosophy should be presented in combination with fictional literature in order to give a true and complete picture of our ethical existence. This study thus enters into a critical dialogue with Nussbaum on her proposal to combine fictional literature with moral philosophy. Accordingly, this study focuses on three specific aspects of our ethical existence, which Nussbaum argues, are acknowledged through fictional literature such as novels, but not through the typical style of abstract moral philosophy. They are; 1) that human values are plural and often incommensurable; 2) that the particulars of situations play an important role in ethical deliberation; and 3) that human emotions and the imagination form a big part of our ethical existence. The fundamental aim of this study is thus to answer the question whether the style of fictional literature actually acknowledges the three above mentioned aspects of our ethical existence. The novel which is used to determine this is Alan Paton’s Cry the Beloved Country. Nussbaum classifies the three above mentioned aspects of our ethical existence as 1) The Non- Commensurability and Plurality of Values; 2) Priority of the Particular; and 3) Ethical Value of the Emotions and Imagination. These three aspects are, however, derived from Aristotle’s ethics and they form, as Nussbaum has argued, the bases of the Aristotelian ethical position – a position from which practical knowledge can be obtained. The aim of this study is therefore not only to determine whether certain fictional literature acknowledges the three fundamental aspects of the Aristotelian ethical position, but it also aims to answer the question whether the Aristotelian ethical position (and therefore practical wisdom) can be obtained through the reading of fictional literature such as novels. The study concludes that some fictional literature, such as the novel Cry, the Beloved Country, does in fact adequately portray the three fundamental features of the Aristotelian ethical position, and that Nussbaum’s proposal should receive serious consideration, since the inclusion of some fictional literature into moral philosophy my lead to deeper ethical understanding from which practical wisdom can be obtained.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Hierdie studie vind sy oorsprong in die eeue oue stryd, soos al reeds geïdentifiseer deur Plato 400 vC, tussen digters (kunstenaars) en filosowe oor die aard van ons etiese bestaan. Die antieke filosowe wat deelgeneem het aan hierdie eeue oue vete, soos byvoorbeeld Plato, het ‘n metafisiese verstaan van ons bestaan gehad, en het daarom geglo dat ons oor ons etiese bestaan moet kommunikeer deur middel van style wat erkenning gee aan die transendentale aard van ons menslike bestaan. Die style en taal wat deur die filosowe van hierdie eeue oue vete gebruik is, was dus dikwels baie abstrak en uiters bemoeid met die mens se rasionele denkvermoëns. Die antieke digters wat deelgeneem het aan hierdie vete het egter nie, soos die filosowe, ‘n metafisiese wêreldbeskouing van ons bestaan gehad nie. Hulle het die transendente aard van ons bestaan ontken, en het daarom daarop aangedring dat ons etiese bestaan voorgestel en oor gekommunikeer moet word deur style wat erkenning gee aan die feit dat ons mense is met ‘n konkrete bestaan. Hulle het egter ook aangedring op ‘n styl wat erkenning gee dat mense beide rasionele en emosionele wesens is. Dit is weens hierdie rede dat ons vandag, in literatuur aangaande morele kwessies, die abstrakte en meer rasioneel geöriënteerde styl van morele filosofie, sowel as die konkrete en meer emosioneel geöriënteerde styl van fiktiewe literatuur aantref. Daar is egter vandag steeds nie klaarheid oor hoe daar oor ons etiese bestaan gekommunikeer moet word nie, en onenigheid is dus steeds te bespeur in huidige debatte oor hierdie tema. Hierdie studie ondersoek ‘n moderne argument, soos voortgestaan deur Martha Nussbaum, oor die wyse waarop daar oor die aard van ons etiese bestaan gekommunikeer moet word. Nussbaum neem die standpunt in dat die abstrakte styl van morele filosofiese tekste erkenning gee aan die abstrakte en rasionele aard van ons menslike aard en bestaan, maar dat dit nie altyd daarin slaag om erkenning te gee dat ons mense is met ‘n konkrete etiese bestaan waarin emosies (eerder as net rasionele denke) ook ‘n baie belangrike rol speel nie. Hierdie studie neem dus die vorm aan van ‘n kritiese dialoog met Nussbaum aangaande haar voorstel om fiktiewe literatuur te kombineer met morele filosofie. Gevolglik fokus hierdie studie op drie spesifieke aspekte van ons etiese bestaan, wat Nussbaum glo wel deur fiktiewe literatuur aangespreek word maar nie altyd deur tekste van morele filosofie nie. Hierdie drie aspekte is 1) dat menslike waardes uiteenlopend en dikwels onversoenbaar is; 2) dat die partikuliere elemente van situasies ’n belangrike rol speel in etiese besluitneming; en 3) dat ons menslike emosies en verbeelding ’n groot deel uitmaak van ons etiese bestaan. Die fundamentele doel van hierdie studie is dus om te bepaal of die styl van fiktiewe literatuur wel erkenning gee aan die drie bogenoemde aspekte van ons etiese bestaan. Die fiktiewe werk wat gebruik is om dit te bepaal, is Alan Paton se Cry, the Beloved Country. Nussbaum klassifiseer die drie bogenoemde aspekte van ons etiese bestaan as 1) Onversoenbaarheid and Pluraliteit van Waardes; 2) Prioriteit van die Partikuliere; en 3) Etiese Waarde van die Emosies en Verbeelding. Hierdie klassifikasie vind egter sy oorsprong in die etiek van Aristoteles, en vorm dus volgens Nussbaum die basis van die Aristoteliaanse etiese posisie – ‘n posisie van waaruit praktiese wysheid geput kan word. Die doel van hierdie studie is dus nie net om te bepaal of fiktiewe literatuur erkenning gee aan die drie fundamentele aspekte van die Aristoteliaanse etiese posisie nie, maar die doel is ook om te bepaal of die Aristoteliaanse etiese posisie (en dus praktiese wysheid) bekom kan word deur die lees van fiktiewe literatuur. Die studie kom tot die gevolgtrekking dat sekere fiktiewe literatuur, soos die werk Cry, the Beloved Country, inderdaad wel bevredigende erkenning gee aan die drie eienskappe van ons etiese bestaan, soos veronderstel deur die Aristoteliaanse etiese posisie, en dat Nussbaum se voorstel ernstige aandag behoort te geniet, aangesien die insluiting van sekere fiktiewe literatuur in morele filosofie ‘n dieper etiese verstaan teweeg kan bring, waaruit praktiese wysheid geput kan word.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/4116
This item appears in the following collections: