The Society of Christian Philosophers invites applications for its second round of the Graduate Student Cross-Training (GSCT) Fellowship Program, with fellowships to begin fall 2018. The GSCT Fellowship program is intended to equip graduate student members of the Society of Christian Philosophers with an opportunity to take up to one academic year to develop competency in an empirical science connected with their research. The 2017-2018 fellows are: Allison Thornton (Baylor, biology), Isaac Wilhelm (Rutgers, physics), Vivek Mathew (Cornell, cognitive science and psychology), Eddy Chen (Rutgers, physics), and Hayden Kee (Fordham, developmental psychology).
Fellowships. Up to five fellowships will be awarded. Each GSCT Fellowship will provide recipients with a stipend of $30,000, plus $2,000 for the home institution’s overhead costs and an additional research fund for the applicant of $2,000. This fund can support the purchase of books, journal subscriptions, or travel to disciplinary conferences, subject to the following conditions: (a) any books or journal/articles subscriptions must be for the purposes of cross-training in an empirical discipline; and (b) any travel costs must be for the purposes of traveling to a professional meeting, conference, or workshop in the cross-training discipline. The Society of Christian Philosophers will contract with recipients’ home institutions for the award monies, and the fellows’ home institutions will administer the award on behalf of the Society of Christian Philosophers. The home institution will be expected to continue providing fringe benefits and tuition support. At the end of the fellowship period, each fellow will submit a 5-page narrative summary of their fellowship experience.
Course of Study. Acceptable courses of study might include a plan to audit undergraduate and graduate-level courses, take up residence in a laboratory, or earn a degree in an empirical science. Fellows will be expected to undertake their study at their home institution, but study at another institution may be warranted in rare instances. All fellows must have a faculty mentor in their cross-training discipline.
Eligibility Requirements. The following requirements must be met for an application to be eligible for consideration:
- Applicant is a member in good standing of The Society of Christian Philosophers.
- Applicant is enrolled in a terminal philosophy PhD program at an accredited university.
- Applicant has reached ABD status, or will do so by June 1, 2018.
- Eligible scientific disciplines for cross-training are psychology, cognitive science, biology, physics, genetics, neuroscience, and astronomy. Cross-training in mathematics, logic, environmental science, economics, medicine, and political science will not be supported (with the exception of behavioral economics). Proposals expressing an interest in cross-training for the purposes of research in political philosophy, in philosophy of law, or in applied ethics, where this includes bioethics, environmental ethics, sexual ethics, medical ethics, and business ethics, are not eligible.
- John Templeton Foundation employees, officers, and Trustees are not eligible.
Full details can be found here: http://kevintimpe.com/gsct.html
Today’s virtual colloquium is “Resolving Disagreements across Philosophical Traditions: an Aristotelian-Historicist Methodology” by Amod Lele. Dr. Lele received his PhD in religion from Harvard University in 2007. Currently, he is Senior Educational Technologist and Lecturer in Philosophy at Boston University, as well as a Visiting Researcher at BU’s Center for the Study of Asia. His papers, focused primarily on the Indian Buddhist philosopher Santideva, have appeared in journals including the Journal of Buddhist Ethics and the Journal of Integral Theory and Practice.
Resolving Disagreements across Philosophical Traditions
An Aristotelian-Historicist Methodology
Can comparative religious ethics do more than compare? Once we have found similarities and differences between different traditions – including similarities within differences and differences within similarities (Yearley 1990) – what then? Mencius was not content to compare Yang Zhu, Mozi and Xunzi; he wanted to form an account of human virtue more adequate than theirs. Likewise, Aquinas’s integration of Augustinian Christianity and Muslim Aristotelianism was no mere articulation of similarities and differences; he aimed to provide a true account of the world and human flourishing, drawing on the wisdom of his two very different teachers. Given our awareness today of the wide-ranging differences across traditions, can we now aim to complete a project like Aquinas’s and Mencius’s own, one that attempts to resolve differences across traditions?
This paper will argue that we can. It will articulate and develop an Aristotelian-historicist methodology for cross-cultural ethics: one rooted in Aristotelian dialectic, maintaining the deeper awareness of cultural difference stemming from the German historicist tradition. It will take particular inspiration from the Aristotelian and historicist works of Alasdair MacIntyre (as articulated in a wide variety of works and especially MacIntyre 1991), but will also articulate a critique of MacIntyre’s method in important respects.
From Aristotle the methodology accepts the idea of dialectic: starting from established beliefs and resolving apparent contradictions among them by showing that the contradictions were only apparent or showing why one side was wrong but appeared right. Drawing on historicist philosophy of science – Kuhn, Lakatos and the Duhem-Quine thesis – it acknowledges that claims can rarely be refuted piecemeal and need to be understood within the context of a wider theoretical system, thus aligning itself with a “holist” or “historian’s” approach to comparative ethics rather than a “formalist” or “ethicist’s” approach. (See Sizemore 1990, 87; Stalnaker 2006, 16.) Further, it accepts that traditions may be incommensurable – that is, having no neutral or common standard by which their claims may be judged.
Unlike some formulations of the holist approach, however, the proposed methodology does not take incommensurability as final. With MacIntyre, it argues that traditions can become commensurable (and thereby supersede or be superseded) by learning the history of each other’s characteristic anomalies in their own terms and becoming able to explain another tradition’s anomalies better than they could themselves.
The project diverges from MacIntyre in refusing the ideal of situating ourselves within one single tradition. It argues that membership in multiple traditions of inquiry is necessary, across disciplines at a minimum (a properly informed scientific inquirer should be both a Darwinian and Mendelian biologist, and an Einsteinian and quantum physicist). Moreover the general condition of being (sometimes incoherently) “betwixt and between” traditions is not merely a modern problem, as MacIntyre (e.g. 1988, 397–8) implies it is, but a feature shared by Muslims who pray to local gods and Buddhists in Thailand who make offerings to Ganesh. So the methodology suggests that a joint process of synthesis is likely to be more fruitful than one-sided supersession.
A key question for any such project is reflexivity: how does it apply to itself? Since the methodology claims to be situated in Aristotelian-historicist tradition rather than tradition-neutral, one can well ask whether the methodology should be of interest to anyone who is not already Aristotelian or historicist. I claim that the methodology is, in MacIntyre’s words, “the best theory so far” – for everyone, not merely for those who are already Aristotelians or historicists. It is not that I advocate this methodology because I am an Aristotelian; rather, I am an Aristotelian because I believe it to be the most helpful methodology. But the methodology also draws from historicism a humility that recognizes that those involved in other traditions will start from very different places; insofar as this method rests on Aristotelian or historicist presuppositions that they cannot accept, it invites them to develop an alternative from which the dialogue can begin. “We have to begin by disagreeing even on how to characterize that about which we disagree, if we are to make any movement, even a stumbling and halting one, in the direction of rational agreement.” (MacIntyre 1991, 122–3)
MacIntyre, Alasdair. 1988. Whose Justice? Which Rationality? Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press.
MacIntyre, Alasdair. 1991. Incommensurability, Truth, and the Conversations Between Confucians and Aristotelians About the Virtues. In Culture and Modernity, edited by Eliot Deutsch. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press. 104–22.
Sizemore, Russell F. 1990. Comparative Religious Ethics as a Field: Faith, Culture and Reason in Ethics. In Ethics, Wealth and Salvation: A Study in Buddhist Social Ethics, edited by Russell F. Sizemore and Donald K. Swearer. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press.
Stalnaker, Aaron. 2006. Overcoming Our Evil: Human Nature and Spiritual Exercises in Xunzi and Augustine. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press.
Yearley, Lee H. 1990. Mencius and Aquinas: Theories of Virtue and Conceptions of Courage. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.
The complete paper is available here. Comments welcome below!
Today’s Virtual Colloquium is “God’s Standing to Forgive” by Brandon Warmke. Dr. Warmke received his PhD in philosophy from the University of Arizona in 2014 and is currently Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. His work in moral philosophy has been published in journals such as Philosophical Studies, Canadian Journal of Philosophy, Australasian Journal of Philosophy, Pacific Philosophical Quarterly, and Philosophy and Public Affairs.
God’s Standing to Forgive
Consider two cases:
|LUCY:||I lie to my brother, telling him I bought a gift for our parents when I did not do so. Realizing my guilt, I ask my new plumber Lucy to forgive me for my lie. Lucy forgives me for lying to my brother.|
|GOD:||I lie to my brother, telling him I bought a gift for our parents when I did not do so. Realizing my guilt, I ask God to forgive me for my lie. God forgives me for lying to my brother.|
The claim that Lucy could forgive me for lying to my brother will, I think, strike most people as very strange. And yet for many people, it will not seem nearly so strange to think that God could do so. An apparently central tenet of all three Abrahamic faiths is that God can and does forgive human persons for the wrong things they do to one another. But how is this possible? Because I lied to my brother—and not to Lucy—we are inclined to think that Lucy cannot forgive me. She lacks standing to do so. But then why think that God can forgive us for the wrongs we do to others? It is natural to suppose that just like I did not lie to Lucy about the gift, I also did not lie to God about the gift. And so if Lucy does not have the standing to forgive me, how does God? This is the question I wish to explore: how could God have the standing to forgive us for the things we do to one another? Call this the problem of divine standing. In this paper I provide two different solutions to the problem.
I begin by cataloging the various ways that one might have standing to forgive someone for wrongdoing. One has direct standing to forgive a wrongdoer when one is the direct victim of that wrongdoing. One has indirect standing when one is wronged as a result of a wrongdoing to someone else. Controversially, one can possess proxy standing to forgive when one can forgive on behalf of the victim. Also controversially, one can possess third-party standing to forgive a wrongdoer for what she did to someone else.
I then show that none of these individual varieties of standing to forgive explains why God would be able to forgive interpersonal human wrongs. For example, one might argue that when humans wrong one another, both the human victim and God have direct standing to forgive, but for different wrongs. When I lie to you, you can forgive me for lying to you, and God can forgive me for, say, disobeying God. But such a solution would still not secure God’s standing to forgive me for lying to you.
I then develop two different solutions to the problem of divine standing. One kind of solution concedes that God cannot forgive wrongs between human persons because God lacks standing to do so, but argues that this is no problem. There are many things that God cannot do. Just as God cannot, say, keep your wedding vows to your spouse (only you can do that), God cannot forgive you for lying to your spouse (only s/he can do that). This solution also stresses the importance of human forgiveness: because only you can forgive the wrongs done to you, those wrongs will be forgiven only if you do so.
For those who desire for God to be able to forgive us our “trespasses” against others, I develop another solution to the problem of divine standing. On this strategy, when we wrong others: (1) the human victim has direct standing to forgive us for the interpersonal human wrong; (2) God has direct standing to forgive for the wrong against God; and (3) God has third-party standing to forgive for the interpersonal human wrong. In developing this solution, I defend the possibility of third-party standing. I suggest a new strategy for defending third party-forgiveness and show that persons can come to have such standing when they stand in relationships of personal care with both victim and wrongdoer. I conclude that since God stands in relationships of personal care with all of us, this explains why God has standing to forgive us for our wrongs against each other and not just our wrongs against God.
The complete paper is here. Comments welcome below!
CFA: Third Annual Theistic Ethics Workshop
College of William and Mary
October 5-7, 2017
Laura Ekstrom (College of William and Mary)
Dan Moller (University of Maryland)
Mark Murphy (Georgetown University)
Mark Schroeder (University of Southern California)
Rebecca Stangl (University of Virginia)
Goal: Contemporary philosophy of religion has been richly informed by important work in metaphysics and epistemology. At the same time, there has not been nearly as much work done at the intersection of philosophy of religion and meta-ethics or normative theory. To help inspire more good work in this area, Christian Miller (Wake Forest), Mark Murphy (Georgetown), and Chris Tucker (William and Mary) organize a series of annual workshops on theistic ethics.
Logistics: The third workshop will be held at the campus of William and Mary. We will begin with dinner and the first paper on Thursday, October 5th and conclude at the end of the day on Saturday, October 7th, 2017. There will be five invited papers and four spots for submitted papers. All papers will have 40 minutes for presentation and at least 40 minutes for discussion.
Themes: “Theistic ethics” is to be understood broadly to include such topics as divine command and divine will theories; God and natural law; ethics and the problem of evil; moral arguments for a theistic being; infused and acquired virtues; the harms and benefits of theistic religions; what mainstream moral theories imply about divine action; specific ethical issues in Judaism, Christianity, or Islam; and many other topics as well.
Applying: Those interested in participating should submit an abstract of up to 750 words and a current C.V. to Chris Tucker (email@example.com) by May 1, 2017. Word or PDF file formats only. Please prepare abstracts for anonymous review. For although the organizers seek to have a balanced program both in terms of topics and presenters, the initial stage of review will be done anonymously. Questions about the workshop should be sent to the firstname.lastname@example.org.
Notification will be made by June 1, 2017 at the latest. If your abstract is selected, we will cover your accommodation, meals at the conference, and travel expenses of up to $1200 (and possibly more). Co-authors are welcome, but only one author’s expenses can be covered. You do not have to send your paper in advance of the workshop, and it certainly can be a work in progress.
Supported by generous funding from William and Mary’s philosophy department, Theresa Thompson ‘67, William and Mary Arts and Sciences, and the Carswell Fund of the Wake Forest University Philosophy Department
Today’s virtual colloquium paper is “Jesus and the Virtues of Pride” by Robert C. Roberts and Ryan West. Dr. Roberts received his PhD from Yale in 1974 and is currently Chair of Ethics and Emotion Theory in the Jubilee Centre, the University of Birmingham (UK) and Distinguished Professor of Ethics emeritus at Baylor University. His extensive publication history includes monographs published by Oxford, Cambridge, and Eerdmans (among others) as well as numerous journal articles, mainly focusing on Christian virtue ethics. Dr. West received his PhD from Baylor, under Dr. Roberts’ supervision, earlier this year and is currently Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Grove City College. His papers on virtue ethics have appeared in journals including Canadian Journal of Philosophy, Synthese, and Faith and Philosophy.
Jesus and the Virtues of Pride
Robert C. Roberts and Ryan West
We are grateful for the opportunity to participate in this virtual colloquium. Our paper, “Jesus and the Virtues of Pride,” is to be included in an interdisciplinary volume on pride edited by Adam Carter and Emma Gordon as part of Rowman & Littlefield’s forthcoming series, Moral Psychology of the Emotions (series editor, Mark Alfano). This is the penultimate draft, and we welcome your feedback. Here’s a sketch of the project.
It is commonly thought that humility and pride are traits that repel each other. And so they are, but only in a qualified sense. We propose that there are both virtuous and vicious forms of both humility and pride, and that only some of these are mutually repelling. More specifically, we argue that virtuous pride and virtuous humility are in fact mutually reinforcing, even as each is opposed to both vicious pride and vicious humility. We make our case by offering conceptual analyses of several sub-species of the four classes just mentioned, giving special attention to the presence or absence of those traits in the character of Jesus of Nazareth, whom we take to be an exemplar not only of virtuous humility, but also of virtuous pride.
We take virtuous humility to consist in the intelligent absence of the vices of pride. The latter encompass three general areas of human selfhood: the self as agent, as having special entitlements or privileges, and as a self among other selves. The third area admits division, so we group the pride vices into five species:
- The prides of distorted agency (selfish ambition, domination, and hyper- autonomy);
- The prides of corrupt entitlement (arrogance and presumptuousness);
- The prides of empty self-display (vanity and pretentiousness);
- The prides of invidious comparison (snobbery, self-righteousness, invidious pride, and envy); and
- The prides of tribal superiority (racism, sexism, ethnicism, homophobia, etc.).
We suggest that people with the vices of pride are concerned to have a kind of importance, which, in a way that deviates somewhat from common usage, we call self-importance. The drive for self-importance is exemplified in such things as using one’s agency for personal importance independently of the real value of one’s actions, taking over others’ proper agency, and eschewing others’ contributions to one’s own agency; having entitlements beyond what is proper to one; getting the (usually) positive regard of others in abstraction from what is actually excellent; and being superior to others and having others be inferior to oneself, either individually or in tribal terms. Virtuous humility, then, comes in a number of varieties: there is the lack of vanity, the lack of snobbery, the lack of domination, and so on.
The three areas of human selfhood just noted—the self as agent, as entitled, and as a self among other selves—are generic and unavoidable in the constitution of selfhood. They are fundamental aspects of human life that bear on individuals’ importance—not just the false value of self-importance, but the real importance of persons. People can be important for what they do, for what they are entitled to, and in virtue of their relations to one another. Also, these three belong intimately together, because they all intersect. The virtues of pride—traits like self-confidence, secure agency, aspiration, pride in one’s work, sense of dignity, self-respect, personal authority, pride in associates, group belonging, and secure collegiality—are excellences with respect to the same dimensions of character with respect to which the vices of pride are defects.
If virtuous pride is a positive self-construal in terms of one’s agency, one’s dignity, or one’s entitlements, it would seem to encourage virtuous humility in a special way, namely, by being a proper and genuine satisfaction of a basic human need of which the vices of pride are a perverse and false satisfaction. The fact that the vices of pride speak to the same psychological need as the virtues of pride marks the special intimacy between them. We illustrate this point by exploring the presence of several virtues of pride in the New Testament presentation of Jesus of Nazareth. Furthermore, we suggest that we can discern in the teaching of Jesus that he encourages his disciples to imitate him in many of these respects.
Finally, we suggest that virtuous pride and virtuous humility are each contrary not only to vicious pride, but also to what we call vicious humility. The latter finds expression in traits like deep shame, servility, and a variety of other unrealistically low dispositional self-construals.
That is a basic outline of the conceptual scheme of pride and humility we develop. In the paper, we offer several narrative examples to illustrate the nuances of each trait and their interrelations with one another. We also defend our view against some objections. We welcome the opportunity to explain and/or defend ourselves here as well. Thank you in advance for your feedback.
The complete paper is here. Comments welcome below!
This is the twenty-third installment of a series of interviews I am conducting with academic philosophers about their religious practices. In this series of interviews, I ask philosophers about their religious practices and the influence on their philosophical work. Follow these links for links for parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21 and 22.
This interview is with Jeremiah Carey, PhD candidate at the University of California, Berkeley.
Can you tell me something about your current academic position and work, and your religious affiliation/self-identification?
I’m a graduate student in philosophy at UC Berkeley. I’ll be going on the job market in the fall and graduating in the spring, so I’m eagerly (and anxiously) waiting to see what the future holds. My philosophical interests are broad and mostly ethical – I want to know how to live and whatever is relevant to knowing that – but my main research has centered on issues in moral psychology. I pitch my dissertation as a defense of a contemporary analogue of Plato’s tripartite theory of soul. Basically, I argue that in order to make sense of weakness of will, we have to think of ourselves as having multiple “sources” of motivation, which I identify as reason, desire, and the will. A big chunk (over half) is about how to understand desire and its relation to reasons for action. I’m also interested in normative issues in moral psychology and related topics in virtue ethics and free will/moral responsibility. I’ve found myself attracted more to ancient approaches to these questions than modern ones, which has led to secondary interests in ancient philosophy, and, more recently, Asian philosophy.
I’m an Eastern Orthodox Christian. I converted to Orthodoxy fairly recently, though I grew up in church, almost quite literally – when I was young my father was a pentecostal preacher and we lived for awhile in an apartment built above the sanctuary. The denomination I grew up in was un-orthodox (denying the doctrine of the Trinity), and at least at that time quite fundamentalist and anti-intellectual. In fact, my first exposure to philosophy came from my dad’s struggle against the anti-intellectualism of his own church. (I remember him trying once, without much success, to give us family lessons on common fallacies. A more lasting impression was made when he gave me to read, as a pre-teen, the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, and emphasized Douglass’ discovery of the link between slavery, on the one hand, and a failure to ask questions and to think deeply, on the other.) My family left that church while I was in middle school and remained non-denominationally affiliated for the rest of my childhood (my dad quit pastoring, went back to school and became a medical doctor). Since then I’ve always been, more or less half-heartedly, connected to one church or another, until I discovered the Orthodox church early in my graduate career.
I’ve always been somewhat ill at ease with my faith. I seem to be the only person in my immediate or extended family who is, I’m afraid, basically immune to religious experience. I think there are good arguments for theism in general and Christianity in particular, but I don’t find them rationally compelling. So while Truth is undoubtedly an important issue, my primary draw towards religion is based more on those other transcendentals, Goodness and Beauty. I want to be good, and I want to recognize and love the beautiful, as well as to believe the true. Orthodoxy holds out for me the hope of those things more than anything else I’ve encountered.
This is the twenty-second installment of a series of interviews I am conducting with academic philosophers about their religious practices. In this series of interviews, I ask philosophers about their religious practices and the influence on their philosophical work. Follow these links for links for parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20 and 21.
The contributors are in various stages of their career, tenured and untenured. Interviews were conducted through e-mail and responses are not edited.
This interview is with Owen Flanagan, James B Duke University Professor of Philosophy at Duke University
Can you tell me something about your academic position, and about your current religious affiliation/self-identification – please feel free to say something about your religious upbringing or history, or anything else that might be relevant to your current religious affiliation.
I am James B. Duke University Professor of Philosophy at Duke University in Durham NC, where I am Co-director of the Center for Comparative Philosophy. I was raised as a Roman Catholic and still have that Catholic boy inside me. I received a fantastic education from nuns, most of whom had never been to anything that we would call college. I get Catholicism. It is in my blood and bones. It is familiar. In Rome last year, my wife and I visited Saint Peter’s, many other churches, went to vespers at a convent, and I was consistently moved, engaged. But I haven’t practiced since I was a young teenager. I was bothered by hell, specifically the idea that a good God would have such a place, by the emphasis on sexual sins, and by a sincere worry that although Jesus might be understood as a prophet, as he is in the Koran, but was simply nowhere good enough to be God.
So, I am a certain kind of atheist, a philosophical one, who has never heard a substantive conception of God, the sort that is presented in creedal religions (I believe in god the Father almighty…) that I thought the weight of reasons supported belief in. The reasons always seem to weigh against actually believing in THAT God. This philosophical orientation goes well with a certain resistance to epistemic over-confidence that is needed to speak confidently about the existence or nature of one’s God or gods.
In part, I have been too impressed, in a good way I think, by my interest and study of other great world religions to be confident about the creedal parts of the Catholicism I was raised in, which I was told was the one true religion. Confucianism, which treads lightly on the divinity stuff, and Buddhism, Jainism, and Daoism, are beautiful without being theistic in the familiar senses. Some say Buddhism is atheistic, which is true as far as a creator God goes. But Buddhism, like almost every spiritual tradition seems committed to ideas, which are hard to take literally from the perspective of the scientific image such as rebirth and karma. These ideas can however easily be taken poetically and embodied in rituals without literal commitment.
That said, I get the religious impulse, embrace the feelings of mystery, awe, and existential anxiety about the meaning and significance of life that most every religion responds to. I love the part of most religious traditions that enact, express, and acknowledge the mystery of things. In fact I preferred the old pre-Vatican 2 masses in Latin with more dramatic music, incense, mystery, drama.
In The Really Hard Problem: Meaning in a Material World (2007), I make the distinction between assertive theism, where one asserts certain supernatural claims as true, and expressive theism, where one expresses various extra-mundane impulses, feelings, emotions, and expansive not-humanly-possible love. I prefer the latter to the former.
You might think this makes me a familiar type: spiritual but not religious. Maybe. But I am pretty allergic to New Age style religions because they seem self-indulgent, egoistic, and in addition often assert empirically irresponsible stuff such as one hears in homeopathy. So to make things maximally confusing and to conclude this part of our interview: When people ask about my religion, I sometimes say I am Catholic. I say it in the same spirit many of my Jewish friends say and mean they are Jewish. Catholicism is part of me. It is like when I go home to Westchester County, New York where I was raised. The dirt smells right, the way dirt is supposed to smell, the sky, the trees look right; it is familiar, comforting, and grounding. But in both cases, I don’t live there anymore.
This is the fifth installment of a series of interviews I am conducting with academic philosophers about their religious practices. In this series of interviews, I ask philosophers about their religious practices and the influence on their philosophical work. Follow the links for parts 1, 2, 3 and 4. The contributors are in various stages of their career, tenured and untenured. Interviews were conducted through e-mail and responses are not edited.
The fifth interview is with Anya Topolski, postdoctoral fellow at the University of Leuven.
[X-posted at Newapps] As the third season of Game of Thrones has ended, this interesting reflection, written by Adam Brereton, contends that A Song of Fire and Ice by G.R.R. Martin and the TV series based on it simply don’t work, because they do not obey what Chesterton has termed “elfin ethics”:
according to elfin ethics all virtue is in an ‘if’. The note of the fairy utterance always is, ‘You may live in a palace of gold and sapphire, if you do not say the word “cow”‘; or ‘You may live happily with the King’s daughter, if you do not show her an onion.’ The vision always hangs upon a veto. All the dizzy and colossal things conceded depend upon one small thing withheld. All the wild and whirling things that are let loose depend upon one thing that is forbidden.
In GOT, however, this rule doesn’t apply: people who do break oaths (like Robb Stark) get killed in a horrible way, but people who are honorable, try to do the right thing and don’t break oaths (like Eddard Stark) also get killed in a horrible way. In this, Martin differs from other fantasy writers, like H.P. Lovecraft or J.R.R. Tolkien. We can expect something like the massacre of the Starks at the Red Wedding to occur on a biweekly basis. So, Brereton concludes
Westeros just doesn’t work. Unlike Tolkien, Lovecraft and Peake, it is not a consistent creation. Where does the good exist?…In Martin’s broken world, good only resides in individual acts, only as long they don’t get you killed, which more often than not they do.
The intuition that fantasy works should have some moral compass, or indeed, that fantasy universes should ultimately be just worlds, is compelling. Indeed, as Mitch Hodge argues in this draft paper, we even have a strong intuition that the world, au fond, is a morally just place. People intuitively regard the world as a just place: the good prosper, the wicked suffer.