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Joanne Wood LORDJIM AND THE CONSEQUENCES OF KANTIAN AUTONOMY Autonomy IS the fundamental principle of Kantian ethics. This is so because his moral system is based on the crucial idea that nothing in the world can be called "good without qualification except a good will."1 Thus a good will is good in and of itself, without regard to any possible end. For such a will, morality is categorical, for only with such an imperative can moral laws be said to be laws ofcomplete freedom, and willed without regard to any other interest. Thus autonomy is a necessary condition for a good will, because any heteronomous worth a will could achieve would by definition be conditional, and would therefore violate Kant's notion of the unconditional worth of a good will. However, it is precisely this notion of the absolute worth a good will merits on its own that would seem to bear looking into: there is something intuitively wrong with Kant's assertion that even if"it should happen that, by a particularly unfortunate fate or by the niggardly provision of a stepmotherly nature, this will should be wholly lacking in power to accomplish its purpose," it would still "sparkle like a jewel in its own right, as something that had its full worth in itselP (p. 10). The idea implied in this passage, that a good will could exist somehow apart from the world and any effects achieved therein, is problematic to say the least. How could such a will be known? The metaphor ofa "sparklingjewel" is striking, but flawed: ajewel exists in the world, for all eyes to see if they know where to look, whereas a good will exists in the hearts of men. It is for this reason thatJoseph Conrad's LordJim is a fitting supplement to understanding the implications of a Kantian view of morality, for the central concern of the novel is the moral ambiguity that results from our common obscurity ofvision into ourselves and those around us. Given this 57 58Philosophy and Literature ambiguity, which Kant recognizes when he says, "even the strictest examination can never lead us entirely behind the secret incentives, for, when moral worth is in question, it is not a matter of actions which one sees but ofdieir inner principles which one does not see" (p. 23). It seems then irresponsible still to maintain that the worth ofa good will is independent of the way of the world. Since it is evident that if results or other empirical factors are invalid tojudge intentions, then the only judge capable of assessing in advance what maxim is being acted upon is the moral agent; morality becomes a matter of strictly individual conscience or reason. The moral agent thus becomes romanticized, a lone figure needing no other guidance than that which his or her own reason can provide in order to lead a truly good life. LordJim challenges just such a conception of individualist or self-sufficient morality. Due to the essential ambiguity ofwhatjim himselfis, the novel is an extremely difficult one to read. This is further complicated by the fact that, after the first four chapters, the reader is never given an impersonal view ofJim, but instead Marlow's painstaking efforts to fit together the puzzle ofJim's character: "I don't pretend I understood him. The views he let me have of himself were like those glimpses through the shifting rents in a thick fog— bits of vivid and vanishing detail, giving no connected idea of the general aspect of a country . . . they were no good for purposes of orientation."2 Given this cloud of uncertainty, Jim remains an enigma from beginning to end. The reader is treated to various judgments ofhim during this time from a wide range of viewpoints which Marlow perhaps pursues in an effort to shed some light on the subject, but which nonetheless leave us in darkness because they all omit one factor or another. There is no Authority in this book. The facts ofJim's case are relatively straightforward: it is the interpretation of what lies behind them, ofJim's "inner principles," which is extraordinarily complex. Jim is working as first mate on...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 57-74
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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