Outside Ethics

Outside Ethics

Raymond Geuss
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 320
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    Outside Ethics
    Book Description:

    Outside Ethicsbrings together some of the most important and provocative works by one of the most creative philosophers writing today. Seeking to expand the scope of contemporary moral and political philosophy, Raymond Geuss here presents essays bound by a shared skepticism about a particular way of thinking about what is important in human life--a way of thinking that, in his view, is characteristic of contemporary Western societies and isolates three broad categories of things as important: subjective individual preferences, knowledge, and restrictions on actions that affect other people (restrictions often construed as ahistorical laws). He sets these categories in a wider context and explores various human phenomena--including poetry, art, religion, and certain kinds of history and social criticism--that do not fit easily into these categories. As its title suggests, this book seeks a place outside conventional ethics.

    Following a brief introduction, Geuss sets out his main concerns with a focus on ethics and politics. He then expands these themes by discussing freedom, virtue, the good life, and happiness. Next he examines Theodor Adorno's views on the relation between suffering and knowledge, the nature of religion, and the role of history in giving us critical distances from existing identities. From here he moves to aesthetic concerns. The volume closes by looking at what it is for a human life to have "gaps"--to be incomplete, radically unsatisfactory, or a failure.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2693-3
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    Most of the following essays arepièces d’occasion, responses to concrete invitations to address a particular topic in a specific forum, and my primary hope is that as many of them as possible will be able to stand on their own as illuminating contributions to the understanding of whatever particular topic or topics each treats. However, it is, I hope, not mere whimsy to collect them into a single volume. There are various connections between the topics the different essays discuss: a number of them deal with the relation between ethics and politics, between individual values and the structuring of...

  5. 1 Liberalism and Its Discontents
    (pp. 11-28)

    Agents in contemporary Western societies find themselves in an odd situation. On the one hand, we seem to have no realistic alternative to liberalism; that is, we know of no other approach to human society and politics that is at the same time as theoretically rich and comprehensive as liberalism and also even remotely as morally acceptable to wide sections of the population in Western societies, as they are now in fact constituted.¹ Liberal ideas permeate our social world and our everyday expectations about how people and institutions will and ought to act; they constitute the final framework within which...

  6. 2 Neither History nor Praxis
    (pp. 29-39)

    The recent death of the philosopher John Rawls makes it especially appropriate, but also particularly difficult, to reflect on the peculiarity of his life, work, and influence, and try to assess what long-lasting contribution he might have made to our understanding of politics and society. Rawls by all accounts was a remarkably saintly man, a devoted teacher of many highly successful students, and a concerned citizen. Under these circumstances any discussion of him and his work, especially at this time, is likely to take place in an atmosphere of mild hagiography. The body of work he left behind is...

  7. 3 Outside Ethics
    (pp. 40-66)

    This paper arises out of a sense I have had for many years that the German philosophers in whom I am most interested (Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, Adorno, and Heidegger),¹ while obviously in some sense deeply concerned with human life in its practical aspects, are very difficult to situate in the established contexts of what we now usually think of as “philosophical ethics.” Their theories don’t seem easily to fit into the usual categories, and to the extent to which they can be read as instances of deontological, consequentialist, perfectionist, eudaimonistic, or any of the other standard types of theories, the...

  8. 4 Freedom as an Ideal
    (pp. 67-77)

    Isaiah Berlin’s discussion of the two concepts of liberty¹ provides a convenient starting place for the topic I wish to discuss, namely the role conceptions of freedom play in structuring our human aspirations. Berlin assumes that “freedom” can be significantly ascribed either to human individuals or to groups, and he also distinguishes what he calls “negative conceptions” of freedom from “positive conceptions.” An entity (whether human individual or group) is free “in a negative sense” to the extent to which there are no (external) impediments or obstacles to the action of that entity (in some particular domain); an entity (whether...

  9. 5 Virtue and the Good Life
    (pp. 78-96)

    The cover ofHow Should One Live? Essays on the Virtues, edited by Roger Crisp (Oxford University Press, 1996), a collection of distinguished contributions to the contemporary debate about virtue-ethics, shows an engraving by Albrecht Dürer (figure 1). The engraving has come down to us without a title, and its iconography is difficult to make out. Some early commentators thought it depicted a cuckold (the man in the horned helmet) or the phenomenon of envy (invidia), or that it represented the struggle between chastity and unchastity. In a highly influential monograph from the early 1930s, the great German art historian...

  10. 6 Happiness and Politics
    (pp. 97-110)

    At the height of the Terror during the French Revolution Saint-Just announced that “Happiness is a new idea in Europe.”¹ Extracted from its context and interpreted very literally, this does not seem prima facie a terribly plausible opinion to hold. Surely many people before the eighteenth century had rather a clear idea of what they thought happiness was; many ancient philosophers, at any rate, such as Epicurus, Zeno of Kitium, and Aristotle, had views, sometimes elaborate and highly articulated views, about the nature of happiness, and about what human individuals might do to increase their chances of attaining it. What...

  11. 7 Suffering and Knowledge in Adorno
    (pp. 111-130)

    Suffering, many reflective people have thought, is simply an integral part of any human life; since there is no certain remedy for it short of death—which many believe carries its own disadvantages—one might as well learn to tolerate it as best one can. Some philosophers, to be sure, have thought that this reaction is too undifferentiated: if one wishes to think seriously about suffering one must begin by distinguishing different kinds of suffering toward which perhaps very different attitudes would be appropriate. Thus Nietzsche¹ distinguishes very sharply between suffering that has a meaning—the pain experienced during training...

  12. 8 On the Usefulness and Uselessness of Religious Illusions
    (pp. 131-152)

    General, discursively structured criticism of the way in which humans conceive and imagine the gods reaches back to the very beginnings of systematic Western philosophy. Poems written by Xenophanes in the second half of the sixth century bc contain a remarkably modern-sounding analysis and rejection of religious anthropomorphism.¹ What is historically perhaps most notable about this is that Xenophanes in presenting his case against conceiving the gods as having human form does not appeal to any form of esoteric lore,² to intuition, revelation, or the inspiration of the muses,³ but merely to comparative, empirical observation and to everyday forms of...

  13. 9 Genealogy as Critique
    (pp. 153-160)

    I should like to address the issue of “genealogy as critique” in terms of the question about the relationship between theory and praxis, between knowledge and its supposedly binding power. In the context of modern philosophy we can distinguish at least three basic types of critique which effectively correspond to three senses of the word “critique” itself.¹

    In an everyday sense the term “critique” describes a specific form of conduct, with two characteristic features, which I may adopt with regard to someone or something. In the first place, the term in this sense possesses unambiguously negative connotations. I am not...

  14. 10 Art and Criticism in Adorno’s Aesthetics
    (pp. 161-183)

    When Adorno looked back at theorizing about art in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries he saw it as dominated by a struggle between two tendencies.¹ There was a strand associated with Kant which put great emphasis on the autonomy of art and the irreducibility of aesthetic judgments to any other kind of judgment. Art followed its own laws which it gave itself: in particular, one couldn’t evaluate a work of artas artby such criteria as whether it gives a good imitation of reality, whether it has contributed to social progress, or by moral criteria. Usually this claim...

  15. 11 Poetry and Knowledge
    (pp. 184-205)

    Over two thousand years ago Plato spoke of an “old” disagreement (παλαιὰ διαΦορὰ) between poetry and philosophy (Republic607b).¹ This was construed by Plato as a struggle about authority. One can reconstruct his argument as proceeding in three steps:

    1. Authority by its very nature must be moral authority;

    2. Moral authority must be able to give a self-warranting or self-validating account of itself (λὀγον διδὀναι);

    3. The only such appropriately self-validating procedure is a process of philosophical argumentation which is essentially informed by correct representation of the real world, and which thereby grounds itself as a form of true...

  16. 12 Plato, Romanticism, and Thereafter
    (pp. 206-218)

    In the 1880s a discovery was made that would have profound implications for the course of human thought in the second half of the twentieth century. A virtually blind, syphilitic, petit bourgeois Swiss rentier who led a peripatetic existence in a series ofpensioni, cheap hotels, and furnished bed-sits in southeastern France, northern Italy, and Canton Graubünden began to see through a set of interconnected and highly constricting illusions that had dominated Western thinking for over two millennia. Friedrich Nietzsche—for he it was—gradually came to realize that Plato had made two mistaken assumptions about the world and our...

  17. 13 Thucydides, Nietzsche, and Williams
    (pp. 219-233)

    Who is a better guide to human life, Plato or Thucydides? Given this choice, virtually all European philosophers for the past two thousand years would have chosen Plato. Indeed one might almost say that to exhibit this preference defines what it is to be a philosophically minded person in the traditional mold. Plato has fascinating things to say about the human soul as an entity composed of parts that can conflict, about the nature of knowledge and the authority it should have in human life, and about how human excellence is related to the demands imposed on us by the...

  18. 14 Adorno’s Gaps
    (pp. 234-248)

    While exiled in the United States during the 1940s, the German philosopher Adorno wrote the three books on which his lasting reputation rests. The first,The Philosophy of New Music, presented a remarkably Whiggish theory which set the terms for all of his later and very extensive writings on art. Adorno believed that musical techniques developed historically, more or less in the way in which industrial techniques and forms of scientific knowledge did. Over time musical forms became more complex, more sophisticated and flexible, and more suited to their task of representing the “truth” about the world. He also believed...

  19. Index
    (pp. 249-257)