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Reviews Through a Darkening Glass: Philosophy, Literature, and Cultural Change, by D. Z. Phillips; ? & 196 pp. Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 1982, $16.95. The two central, interwoven concerns ofthis excellent book are announced in the introductory chapter, which functions as an abstract for the following nine essays. First, Phillips seeks to understand how moral perspectives on life "may change, be eroded, be found wanting, or become impossible for people" (p. 1). These phenomena constitute a darkening of a once-clear glass. Accounts of these processes by philosophers, artists, and critics do not always illuminate, and it is such failures that provide Phillips with his second major concern, and his second reference to a darkening glass. He seeks to identify, criticize, and provide a remedy for these accounts which obscure or further darken experiences in which values wither and die. This is a large, perhaps superhuman, task, as readers of Paul's letter to the Corinthians well know. Ifwe are to succeed in overcoming childish speech, feeling, and thought, how are we to proceed? In each essay, Phillips uses literature as a source of (Wittgensteinian) reminders ("for a particular purpose") of the variety, complexity, incompleteness, unreasonableness, and concreteness of experiences of cheinging moral oudook. So, elfter (1) summarizing the mainstream critical interpretation of a work, or a major philosophical analysis of the work's subject-matter, Phillips (2) recalls the work so as (3) to criticize this dominant view, and (4) offer his own position. More specifically, then, in the second chapter, Phillips focuses on Wharton's Age of Innocence to criticize "an abstracted concept of reasonableness" (pp. 10-14) which blinds philosophers and literary critics to the actual nature of moral allegiance and change. The novel shows that "we do not have reasons for our values, but that our values are our reasons" (p. 2), and so "the question of what we mean by allegiance and change in morality does not admit of a general answer" (p. 29). In the next chapter, Phillips argues that the question of how moral considerations limit human action is inadequately einswered by contemporary moral philosophers, who characterize moral endeavor as ordered, rational, progressive, and free of limits. This caricature is rejected in light of the sensitive writings of Faulkner, Dostoyevsky, and Hardy, who seek to "display" radier than "explain away" (p. 50). In the fourth and fifth chapters, Tolstoy's novels are examined to remind us of the need to distinguish our own inability to accept a person's or culture's values as present in a given context from our a priori ruling out the possibility, meaningfulness, and integrity of such values. In the next three essays, Phillips recalls Sophocles' Oedipus Rex, Goethe's 116 Reviews1 1 7 Faust, and works by Beckett, Camus, and Ionesco to demonstrate how this same a priori universalism and essentialism can blur even the meanings and values present in themes and experiences which have become mythic and perennial. The films ofIngmar Bergman and the poetry of R. S. Thomas are discussed in the final two chapters. Phillips criticizes Bergman's "celebration of the inarticulate" (p. 164), his increased darkening of modern spiritual longing. By contrast, Thomas is praised for his exploration and clarification of the possibilities of meanings which men who reject naturalism have given to their lives. Throughout, Phillips's style is exceptionally clear, lean, and entertaining. While familiarity with his previous work in ethics and philosophy of religion is helpful, it is not assumed. His identification of limiting philosophical assumptions in literary criticism is interesting and provocative. His criticisms of these assumptions, and his own interpretations , are careful, thoughtful, original, and highly rewarding for the patient, if not the Faustian, reader. Phillips is somewhat less careful in his treatment of moral philosophers: he accuses them of faulty descriptions when often they seem busy formulating prescriptive accounts. This, however, is a small point. Analytic philosophers probably will be bothered by the lack of formal argumentation, although the use of such methods surely would contradict the book's central claims. Ifour values are our reasons, has Phillips simply set forth his values in place of others? I think he has, and that he is...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 116-117
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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