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Title:Ethical Ideals, Nonrational Forces: Melville's Critique of Morality
Author(s):Hove, Thomas Britten
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Chai, Leon
Department / Program:English
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Abstract:This dissertation analyzes Herman Melville's late fiction for its treatment of two fundamental problems of moral inquiry: the relation of cognition to action and the difficulty of carrying out ethical ideals. Building on the insights contemporary moral philosophers like Alasdair MacIntyre, Martha Nussbaum, Charles Taylor, and Bernard Williams have brought to the interpretation of narrative, I attempt to draw out the ethical arguments of Melville's Pierre (1852), "Benito Cereno" (1855), and Billy Budd, Sailor (1891; pub. 1924). As my readings suggest, these three narratives demonstrate that moral dilemmas cannot be resolved using the narrow conceptual framework and rigid evaluative procedures of what Williams has labeled "the morality system." Along with Williams, I argue that the morality system's picture of the moral agent is flawed, and that its approach to ethical problems places unwarranted emphasis on the concepts of obligation, purity of motives, rational choice, and deliberate action. In their insistence on the power nonrational forces have over ethical ideals, Melville's narratives of ambiguity and practical failure develop situations in which the morality system's privileged concepts play at best a negligible role. From this perspective, Melville demonstrates that ethical ideals do not derive fkom transcendent sources such as God, Reason, or Nature. Nevertheless, since he refuses to reduce ethical ideals entirely to social or material interests, I conclude by noting the challenge his picture of moral existence poses to certain fonns of reductivism that are often found in materialist approaches to ethical problems, as well as in social-scientific accounts of human motivation.
Issue Date:1998
Description:282 p.
Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1998.
Other Identifier(s):(MiAaPQ)AAI9904482
Date Available in IDEALS:2015-09-25
Date Deposited:1998

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