Moderate Autonomism Revisited

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In the present contribution I propose a new argument for moderate autonomism. I call this the ‘critical argument’ to distinguish it from the ‘empirical argument’ of James C. Anderson and Jeffrey T. Dean, and the ‘no-error argument’ of James Harold. My strategy is to first employ the criticism of Matthew Arnold and F.R. Leavis to demonstrate the moralist failure to account for the complexity of the relationship between literature and morality, and then offer a more promising alternative. I set out the autonomist, moralist, and immoralist positions in the value interaction debate in part I, and identify problems with classifying the two critics in contemporary terms. In part II, I discuss Arnold’s cultural criticism as both a part of – and a reaction to – the public moralist tradition that dominated Britain in the nineteenth century, drawing attention to his criterion of ‘seriousness’. Part III examines Leavis’ literary criticism, focusing on his conception of the relationship between composition and life, and his criterion of ‘maturity’. Drawing on the similarities between Arnold and Leavis, I demonstrate that their concern with morality differs from that of the contemporary moralists in part IV. In part V, I employ John Gibson’s distinction between normative and informative values to complete the argument for moderate autonomism. I test my argument against an extreme case, a hypothetical literary equivalent to The Birth of a Nation, in part VI, and conclude that moderate autonomism provides the most compelling solution to the value interaction debate.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)403-426
JournalEthical Perspectives
Issue number3
Early online date30 Sept 2013
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 30 Sept 2013


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