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December 2017

Objective moral facts

As my Ethics class approaches the end of the semester, there is now an ongoing conversation with my students about whether morality is based upon objective facts or not.  I defend that it is, as virtue theory understands that.  

So, today I enjoyed reading this good essay on Philippa Foot and how she and other like Elizabeth Anscombe and Iris Murdoch rescued philosophy from emotivism and existentialist ethics by insisting that the virtues describe something real.

I delighted in this sentence from the essay, "To say that vice is a natural defect is not an answer to any question; it is simply a way of interpreting the question, of telling us where we should be looking."

So often students wrestle with virtue theory because they expect some set of rules to tell them how to decide ethical matters, rather than the more complex and nuanced activity of character formation.

A splendid paragraph from The Siege

Here is a splendid paragraph from Ismail Kadare's The Siege as a violently dismembered body of an engineer who cast the canon is cleaned up:

They could not take their eyes off the stretcher as the horrible mess was shovelled on to it. A few janissaries who were still standing around gazed with astonishment at the two council members. Hatred had left their eyes. They now looked only stunned, and immensely tired.  The Quartermaster General stared at them.  A few moments earlier they had been beating the caster with all the disgust and all the fear that the mystery of science, which so tortured their minds, inspired in them.  In dismembering the technician they believed they were freeing themselves from the grip of the terror of the unknown.  They would only be free of it for a while, for the same terror would soon seep back into their minds and preoccupy them once again.  For the sake of mental peace they would then set off to find another head to smash . . . 

The Siege

The SiegeThe Siege by Ismail Kadare
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I wasn't sure about this novel as I began it. The writing of this translation was at first off-putting to me, but either it grew on me or it changed. I ended up deeply immersed in the novel--a fictional story of a fifteenth century Ottoman siege of an Albanian fortress, told mostly from the perspectives of Turkish characters ranging from the commander-in-chief to women in the harem. What soon emerges is that this is more than just a compelling story from the past, but a reflection on the present. I first noticed this in the accounts of the dysfunctional war council where traditionalists vie with modern scientific experts. Then the middle chapter--a horrifying episode I won't spoil--fully engaged me to the skill of Kadare.

The excellent afterword explains how Kadare was speaking to the contemporary situation in late 1960's Maoist Albania:

all these details make the Ottoman world, ostensibly the very image of Albania's Other, merge into an evocation of the People's Republic that Kadare could not possibly tackle directly. In a magical way that perhaps only great writers can achieve, Kadare's Turks are at one and the same time the epitome of what we are not, and a faithful representation of what we have become. The Siege is therefore not a simple transposition or blending of medieval and modern history, but a complex symbol of a divided and suffering nation besieged by itself.

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