Monday, September 7, 2009

writing in good conscience

One doesn’t theorize ethical life in order to learn how to live (unless you’re Woody Allen). No, one theorizes ethical life, normally, in order to get an academic promotion (joke). Also, it’s good for orienting one’s teaching of related topics (in which your work can be part of the syllabus), good for conference attendence (which is good for your CV), and something to share with friends.

Seriously, though, one theorizes in order to contribute to advancement of some area of inquiry (or, if you’re lucky, start a new area). But the advance can be very slow in the humanities (quite contrary to the sciences). You write a paper one year (year Y), circulate it, publish it in a journal with a lead time of a year or more (Y+2), get comment some years later, and get odd emails ever after (like Y+5) from recent readers long after you’ve forgotten about it and moved on. Important articles can sit for years before getting important response. And important response to important response, another few years. The conversation, the discourse might belong to Time, more than to a given conference discussion or contiguous issues of a journal.

Copp and Sobel in “Morality and Virtue” (2004) are responding to works written relatively recently: 2001, 1999. But their author-subjects are responding to others decades earlier. The path of inquiry “lives” across decades. Foot was working directly in light of Elizabeth Anscombe, who was working in the ‘50s, and Anscombe was noted for resurrecting a venue of inquiry (virtue ethics) from decades earlier, centuries earlier, that had been considerd closed. The presence of The Question of virtue ethics really does belong to historical time. I find Copp and Sobel’s discussion important, relative to interest in virtue ethics. Perhaps the lack of serious response to it says something about that importance: that virtue ethics was put back into the history of what is properly left behind.

Anyway, the historical locus belongs to textuality purely. The so-called Conversation of Humanity gravitates textual vines in its Time, for those who keep things alive.

So, to ask: In what way does something conceptual exist?, one is looking at a hermeneutical condition and a living mind. We may refer to the same text, but the hermeneutical condition will almost guarantee that no two persons read it the same way (probably not even similarly). We quote in good form and have our interpretations, but easily it can seem that different texts are being read.

Values and norms are kept alive (or not) by our lives. Or they wait in texts, for those who read. Their reality floats through some nebulous phenomenology of distributed understandings, practically (one hopes), if not theoretically, distributed among those who do keep in mind or intend to bring back to mind something on a shelf, in a catalog, etc.

Then there is the writing. One writes in an academic register as if, by that idiom, doing something transcendent and permanent, as if writing to Time. Logical form loves to pretend to ontic atomism (“essentialism,” it’s called now; no one would suggest interest in logical atomism). One’s categories might have more than neighborhood merit (the discursive register might become a legacy).

“Let me begin by focusing on capability. Then, I’ll do a routine on developmental excellence, and you’ll be thrilled by my dance on individuation and flourishing. We will avoid assessing the admirability of my character in order to dispassionately thematize admiration. I will teach life, valuing eductions of flourishing. We will witness a lovely ethic of care, for and in the human interest. That prefaces my artful flourishing, though you will wonder how it could be appropriate.”

Writing in good conscience, to the appreciative other—the bored other? the critical other?—you are projected, you are my project, at least implicity, empathically presumed, fairly presumed, such that the text is really an interpersonal space, ideally an intimate one, even though I don’t name you.