Monthly Archives: April 2008

The Next Phase

It is time for the next phase of this blog.  I have written an article, Puritans, Prigs and the Tyranny of Petty Coercion, looking at two of Marilynne Robinson’s essays in The Death of Adam and how they resonate with Mansfield Park. The purpose of this article is really to launch a new blog, Mansfield Park, devoted to analysing the novel, starting with a series of articles commentating on various aspects of each chapter (from the second volume onwards, when Sir Thomas returns from Antigua). As I am devoted to the heroine of the novel I am not anticipating too much in the way of complementary comments–but the great thing about blogs is that you get to throw the tomatoes, and though that conversation insight can arise for both of us.

I have also written a series of articles, A Philosophical Manifesto, explaining my conception of philosophy and why I think the writings of Jane Austen are particularly relevant to our modern philosophical crisis. Sadly, many of these articles are a bit forbidding, much more forbidding than they should be. Philosophy shouldn’t be like this (it is indicative something wrong) but I have to address philosophy as it is understood today rather than as I think it should be, which is accessible, beautifully written, profound and, above all, wise; i.e., what is to be expected from a Jane Austen novel. Her writings have such power to engage, and are so well adjusted to our times, are written with such subtlety and psychological insight, that they seem to make all other philosophy pale in comparison. I know Buddhist philosophy is quite staggeringly profound, subtle, vast and psychologically acute, but it is unlikely to resonate in the same way to all but a minority of modern occidentals–or at least I suspect it is unlikely to. Austen connected modernity to our special heritage; this is a connection we badly need.

I have also written an article, ‘Big’ Ethics and the War on Terror, trying to separate out the strands of some of the strands surrounding the ethics of the prosecution of the so-called War on Terror, basing the analysis on a recent discussion between Megan McArdle and Daniel Drezner. Some of the most bitter critics of the instigators of torture may have more in common with the objects of their contempt than they are aware of.

I hope to be bringing more shorter articles as I spend a bit more time writing for my own blog than commenting on others than hitherto.

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‘Big’ Ethics and the War on Terror

How to end the War on Terror, quickly

[Here I try to pick apart many issues that get tangled in the debate on the ethics of the War on Terror taking a recent discussion between Megan McArdle and Daniel Drezner. It boils down to the importance of drilling for the real motivation in making ethical judgements and loving the sinner while hating the sin.]

If anyone hasn’t listened to any of the bloggingheads.tv diavlogs (what I think of as divalogs) then I suggest you do, especially if you like witty, intelligent discussion of American politics and current affairs.

I picked up the latest divalog between Megan McArdle and Daniel Drezner from Megan’s blog at The Atlantic and was intrigued by the section that started about 40 minutes in where Megan says she is more interested in ‘small’ (manageable?) ethical issues rather than the ‘big’ issue of whether the US prosecution of the War on Terror is evil. (I am paraphrasing a bit here, but I think this is the sense.)

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A Philosophical Manifesto (Contents)

In this series of articles I explain my own understanding of philosophy and why I think the writings of Jane Austen should be of interest to to anyone interested in modern morality and ethics.

  1. A Philosophical Manifesto
  2. Classical Philosophy
  3. George Berkeley
  4. The Enlightenment
  5. Immanuel Kant
  6. Joseph Butler
  7. David Hume and Jane Austen
  8. A Short Digression: David Hume in Perspective
  9. The Romantics
  10. The Cynics
  11. Postscript (A Personal Anecdote)

    Postscript (A Personal Anecdote)

    A few years I visited The National Portrait Gallery to view the portrait of Jane Austen by her sister. I walked all over the gallery in search of it, until someone pointed out that it was in ground-level display case, and sure enough, once I stopped craning my neck at the grand canvases there was Cassandra’s portrait in front of me.

    The Cynics

    To get a feel for the kind of problems that Austen presents for her critics, consider the Margaret Oliphant (1870) review, an article prompted by the publication of the Austen-Leigh (1870) memoir, triggering as it did the resurgence of interest in Austen that continues to the present.

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    The Romantics

    “I did not know before,” continued Bingley immediately, “that you were a studier of character. It must be an amusing study.”

    “Yes, but intricate characters are the most amusing. They have at least that advantage.”

    “The country,” said Darcy, “can in general supply but a few subjects for such a study. In a country neighbourhood you move in a very confined and unvarying society.”

    “But people themselves alter so much, that there is something new to be observed in them for ever.”

    “Yes, indeed,” cried Mrs. Bennet, offended by his manner of mentioning a country neighbourhood. “I assure you there is quite as much of that going on in the country as in town.”

    Pride and Prejudice (9.15)

    It is difficult not to understand this interchange between Elizabeth and Darcy as an anticipation of the debate within Austen criticism as to whether the restriction of her range reflected a limitation of the novelist, and—more to the point—whether this limitation should be reflected in the novels’ status in the canon. This debate will no doubt run and run, but there can be little doubt that this was a choice of Austen’s, a reflection of the judgement that the middle-range rural domestic arena—the familiar and the universal—was the place to be. And it has provoked a reaction from the Romantics reminiscent of Mrs Bennet’s, Charlotte Brontë’s witty response to George Henry Lewes’s provocations speaking for many:

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    A Short Digression: David Hume in Perspective

    David Hume was a great writer and a great philosopher but this doesn’t mean that he produced perfect philosophy. Two of the best assessments I have seen are one by William Russell (see What is Enlightenment?) and Gilbert Ryle.

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