Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Imagination as the basis for moral decisions

In a particularly straightforward chapter in Philosophy as Cultural Politics, “Kant vs. Dewey: The Current Situation in Moral Philosophy,” [Richard] Rorty raises serious doubts as to whether students of moral philosophy have anything much to tell us about making the right moral decisions in life. Professors of moral philosophy do not, he writes, “have more rigor or clarity or insight than the laity, but they do have a much greater willingness to take seriously the views of Immanuel Kant.” But can Kant really help us find answers to our moral problems? Maybe, as Martha Nussbaum has suggested, we would do better to read novels. “The advantage that well-read, reflective, leisured people have when it comes deciding about the right thing to do is that they are more imaginative, not that they are more rational,” Rorty writes. They “are able to put themselves in the shoes of many different sorts of people.”

—Arthur C. Danto on Richard Rorty, “Margins for Error”

6 comments:

R.H. said...

You've managed to cite a number of my favorite thinkers in one paragraph. Out of curiosity: Do you quote this passage critically, in affirmation, or neutrally?

David W. Congdon said...

I definitely think Nussbaum and Rorty are on the right track. I think our age is marked by a loss of imagination, among other things.

Chris Donato said...

2 1/2 cheers for pragmatism!

I think Rorty's got a hold of it here, too.

Shane said...

Bah humbug.

Imagination is an important part of moral decision-making, of course. One must be able to imagine alternatives in order to be able to deliberate between choices. But imagination is not a substitute for rationality.

Pragmatism is wrong for all sorts of reasons. This is just another.

R.H. said...

I was glad to see Danto nod towards Nussbaum's Love's Knowledge, which remains a most profound challenge to the humanities. Thanks for directing us towards this review!

Chris Donato said...

Pragmatism is wrong for all sorts of reasons. This is just another.

Spoken like a true foundationalist ;-)