Agents and Lives by S. L. Goldberg

By S. L. Goldberg

Brokers and Lives bargains a brand new and critical rethinking of the normal ''humanist'' view of literature. That tradition's valuation of literature for its ''moral import'' is prolonged in a much broader, extra advanced, open and exploratory realizing of these phrases. Goldberg's argument levels throughout literature because the Renaissance, targeting examples from George Eliot's novels and Pope's poetry. An appendix assesses the connection of his argument to fresh debts of literature provided by means of ethical philosophers akin to Iris Murdoch, Bernard Williams, Martha Nussbaum and Richard Rorty.

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Why then is a care only for 'studied and exquisite form' not itself a moral idea, even if one that usually amounts to no more than a vapid, self-conceited conventionality? It is one thing to say that, as human life is inescapably permeated with norms or values, a poetry hostile or indifferent to them is hostile or indifferent to life. Such a poetry might devote itself to describing the world scientifically, or to illustrating acknowledged Truth, in a rhetoric suitable to the occasion. It might inform us about Nature, for instance, or celebrate an eternal spiritual world transcending the imperfections and strife of the natural one.

He now begins to speak not of moral ideas in poetry, but of morals, without noticing his slide of attention or the difference it makes: We find attraction, at times,... e. ' Or we find attractions in a poetry indifferent to them; in a poetry where the contents may be what they will, but where the form is studied and exquisite. We delude ourselves in either case; and the best cure for our delusion is to let our minds rest upon that great and inexhaustible word life, until we learn to enter into its 12 Agents and lives meaning.

1 Whatever we think of Arnold's formula, the distinction between 'conduct' and ' life' does catch the distinction I want to draw between the moral-in-a-narrow-sense and the moral-in-a-large-sense. At its simplest it is no more than a difference in the primary object of moral consideration — though many people (including Mill, Arnold and George Eliot at times) have tried to make the distinction unnecessary by telescoping one sense into the other. But that is matter for another chapter. Conduct-centred morality - or 'conduct-morality', as I shall call it from now on - is the more familiar of the two.

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