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Moral & Philosophical Criticism. EH 4301. Moral Criticism.

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Moral & Philosophical Criticism

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Moral & Philosophical Criticism

EH 4301


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Moral Criticism

  • “The best poetry has a power of forming, sustaining, and delighting us, as nothing else can. … More and more mankind will discover that we have to turn to poetry to interpret life for us, to console us, to sustain us. Without poetry, our science will appear incomplete; and most of what now passes with us for religion and philosophy will be replaced by poetry.”

    - Matthew Arnold, “The Study of Poetry”


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Literature

  • An important source of moral guidance and spiritual inspiration

  • A worthy substitute for religion

    • extreme position

    • in harmony with critical tradition


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Moral Criticism

  • Moral approach has the longest history.

  • The importance of literature

    • not just its way of saying

    • but also what it says


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Moral Criticism

  • Critics who concentrate on the moral dimensions of literature often

    • judge literary works by their ethical teachings and by their effects on readers

      • Literature that is ethically sound and encourages virtue is praised.

      • Literature that misguides and corrupts is condemned.


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Moral Criticism

  • Some modern critical theories may make us resist the idea that literature has a didactic purpose.

    • but cannot deny many of the greatest writers have considered themselves teachers as well as artists.


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Moral Criticism

  • Plato

    • acknowledged literature’s power as a teacher by believing it capable of corrupting morals and undermining religion

      • Moralism

      • Utilitarianism


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Moral Criticism

  • Aristotle and Horace

    • considered literature capable of fostering virtue

    • Horace

      • Literature should be “delightful and instructive”


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Moral Criticism

  • Samuel Johnson

    • Function of literature

      • To teach morality

      • To probe philosophical issues


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Moral Criticism

  • Matthew Arnold

    • “The Study of Poetry”

      • Most important thing is the moral or philosophical teaching

      • Great literary work must possess “high seriousness”

      • literature (poetry)

        • Important source of moral and spiritual inspiration

          • Would probably replace philosophy and religion


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Moral Criticism

  • Matthew Arnold

    • Can accept his idea that there are moral and religious significance in literature.


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Moral Criticism

  • 20th century moral evaluation

    • Neo-Humanist

      • Originally American

      • Literature as a criticism of life

      • the study of the technique of literature is a study of means

        • concerned with the ends of literature

          • How it affects the reader


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Moral Criticism

  • Neo-Humanist

    • Paul Elmer More

    • Irving Babbitt

    • Norman Foerster

    • Harry Hayden Clark

    • G.R. Elliott

    • Robert Shafer

    • Frank Jewett Mather

    • Gorham Munson

    • Stuart Sherman Pratt


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Moral Criticism

  • Neo-Humanist

    • Opposed two literary tendencies:

      • Naturalism

        • Denies man free will and responsibility

      • Romanticism

        • Excessive cultivation of ego

        • Sympathy with unrestrained expression


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Moral Criticism

  • Irving Babbitt

    • most influential and controversial moral critic of the 20th century

    • held that literature must help us recognize

      • the reality of evil

      • the necessity of controlling our impulses


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Moral Criticism

  • Babbitt

  • “Genius and Taste” (1918)

    • “Truly great literature conforms to standards, to the ethical norm that sets bounds to the eagernessof the creator to express himself.” (164-165)

  • Literature that does not abide by such standards leads to:

    • self-indulgence

    • moral degeneration


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Moral Criticism

  • Babbitt

    • Rousseau and Romanticism (1919)

      • critical of romanticism

      • condemns romantic morality

      • sees Blake as “the extreme example” of dangerous romantic rejection of limits and restraints:

        • “He proclaims himself of the devil’s party, he glorifies a free expansion of energy, he looks upon everything that restricts this expansion as synonymous with evil.”

      • Blake & other poets have contributed to a moral decline in society.


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Moral Criticism

  • Paul Elmer More

    • “Criticism”

      • It is the critic’s duty, to determine the moral tendency of literary works and to judge them on that basis.

      • The greatest critics are “discriminators between the false and the true, the deformed and the normal: preachers of harmony and proportion and order, prophets of the religion of taste.”


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Moral Criticism

  • Paul Elmer More

    • “The Praise of Dickens”

      • Focuses on what is “false” and what is “true” in Dickens’ works.

      • Values Dickens’ “divine tenderness” and “humandelicacy” but also says “a strain of vulgarity” runs through his works (166).


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Moral Criticism

  • Point of contention:

    • Whether the moralist would or would not acknowledge supernatural sanction for the moral standards he held up to the arts.

      • More

        • Associated with institutional religion

      • Elliott

        • Necessity of alliance between religion and morality

      • Babbitt

        • Secular and religiously noncommittal


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Moral Criticism

  • 1940’s

    • “Death” of Neo-Humanism

    • Birth of Christian Humanism (Religious Humanism)

      • "a philosophy advocating the self- fulfillment of man within the framework of Christian principles.“ (Webster)

      • Most human beings have personal and social needs that can only be met by religion

        • T.S. Eliot

        • Edmund Fuller

        • Hyatt Waggoner


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Moral Criticism

  • Edmund Fuller

    • Man in Modern Fiction: SomeMinority Opinions on Contemporary American Writing (1958)

    • Fuller’s definition of critic is “to appraise the validity and the implications of the image of man projected by the artist’s use of his materials.”


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Moral Criticism

  • Fuller (like Babbitt and More) sees standards and restraints as essential for moral action.

  • Condemns much of modern fiction for rejecting these guides in the name of compassion.

    • “Compassion must be based on a large and generous view of life and a distinct set of values” (34).

    • The compassion found in many modern novels is “a teary slobbering over the criminal and degraded, the refusal to assign any share of responsibility to them, and a vindictive lashing out against the rest of the world” (35-37)


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Moral Criticism

  • Tobin Siebers

    • The Ethics of Criticism

      • “literary criticism is inextricably linked to ethics” (1)

      • “…literary criticism accepts the task of examining to what extent literature and life contribute to the nature and knowledge of each other” (42).


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Moral Criticism

  • Attempts to extract literature from an ethical context are misguided and ultimately unsuccessful.

    • Faults New Criticism


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  • Christopher Clausen

    • The Moral Imagination: Essays on Literature and Ethics (1986)

      • “literary works usually embody moral problems and reflect moral attitudes, sometimes even moral theories. There is no good reason for criticism to tiptoe around one of the major reasons that literary works endure” (xi).


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Moral Criticism

  • Moral approach has become less popular and influential during the last few decades.

  • Why?

    • It could be due to

      • the excess of the critics

      • the deficiencies of the approach itself

      • the moral laxness of other critics


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Moral Criticism

  • However, there are other critics/critical fields which promote a moral fervor in their writings:

    • Feminist criticism

    • Marxist criticism


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Moral Criticism

  • Lawrence Lipking

    • “Aristotle’s Sister: A Poetics of Abandonment” (1983)

      • In addition to winning critical attention for many neglected works by women writers, feminist criticism has sparked a reevaluation of many works traditionally granted high, secure places in the canon.

      • “Something peculiar has been happening lately to the classics; some of them now seem less heroic, and some of them less funny. Those ‘irrelevant’ scenes of cruelty to women… have changed their character.” (79)


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Moral Criticism

  • F.R. Leavis

  • Yvor Winters

    • Do not categorize themselves as “Humanists”

    • Do express the traditional concern for the moral ends of literature


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Religious Criticism

  • Kenneth B. Murdock

    • Literature and Theology in Colonial New England (1949)

      • Analyzes Puritan works

        • Sermons to poems

          • Notes plain style

          • Disapproval of art that only pleased the senses

          • Imagery: “homeliness” and “realism”


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Religious Criticism

  • Helen Gardner

    • Religion and Literature (1971)

      • Examined religious elements in secular works

        • Hamlet

          • It is “a Christian tragedy in the sense that it is a tragedy of the imperatives and torments of the conscience.”

          • Hamlet’s discovery of all the evil and corruption in the world

          • Must recognize Hamlet’s attitude as fundamentally Christian


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Religious Criticism

  • Stanley Romaine Hopper

    • Spiritual Problems in Contemporary Literature (1952)

      • Much modern literature is fundamentally religious

      • Quest of the Prodigal is central theme in poetry of Auden and Eliot

        • Analysis of such poetry would be incomplete without taking religious themes into account

        • Studying such poetry can help the reader understand vital religious issues


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