- Introduction:On the Ground of Ethical Criticism
One can characterize the relation between philosophy and literature in a number of interestingly different ways: literature provides examples that put flesh on the bones of philosophical ideas; literature shows what philosophy says; literature serves philosophy by displaying the complexity of circumstance that philosophy may oversimplify; literature captures a kind of content that is not amenable to propositional encapsulation; literature offers a portal into an imaginative world and a special kind of vicarious experience within it that philosophy does not and should not try to provide; literature shows (to adapt Thomas Nagel’s famous phrase) what it is like to be another person in another time and place; and there are more. All of these are linked in various ways to the work brought together in this Special Issue. But one of the central concepts—a concept that repeatedly asserts itself in discussions of the relation between philosophy and literature—is that of enrichment.
Philosophers have focused, with impressively strong and helpful results, on the relation between ethics and aesthetics. But too often, perhaps, it has seemed the case that one can proceed to theorize generally about what is pictured as the relation by naming an example or two (e.g., Triumph of the Will or Piss Christ) and then arguing for the priority of one category of value over the other. An enriched conception of the problem, by contrast, would avail itself of important differences, differentiated interweavings of ethical and aesthetic strands, with a fine and nuanced attention to the variegated relations between aesthetic and ethical considerations across a broad range of cases, as they emerge in situ. This is one important (and, I think, indispensible) service close literary reading can provide to philosophy. And while the vision one can attain of these matters at this level of detail may not be reducible to a single overarching theory of a single primary relation between ethics and aesthetics, such readings can and do bring an awareness of [End Page v] conceptually engaging and philosophically significant complexity. All of the essays brought together here serve this aim. [End Page vi]