Low Interest Rates and Banks’ Profitability – Update October 2020

Low Interest Rates and Banks’ Profitability – Update October 2020

My last post on this topic was in May 2019.

Research continues on this important topic. What are the effects of Monetary policy on Financial Institution?

Please see my previous posts to find the issues. In this post I have compiled papers and articles published since my last post in 2019.

Rational Decision making by the firms
  • Lend More – When margins decline, the volumes must go up to maintain or increase profits. This increases risk taking.
  • Diversify – Look for other sources of earnings
  • Consolidate – Merge with other banks as a business strategy to grow loan volumes.

How do banks make money? What is source of their income? How much is Net interest income? How much is Non Interest Income?

As you can see from the graphs below, Net interest income of banks is going up. Although the net interest margins are down, Banks are earning their income mostly from net interest income.

Volumes of Outstanding loans must be going up to make up for decrease in margins.

Sources of interest income can be

  • Commercial loans
  • Real Estate loans
  • Auto Loans
  • Credit cards
  • Student Loans

Additionally consolidation among the banks can be partially explained by the decling number of banks. See graph below.

Diversification to find other sources of earnings.

Image Source: FRED
EFFECTIVE FEDERAL FUNDS RATE (FEDFUNDS)

Image Source: FRED
NET INTEREST MARGIN FOR ALL U.S. BANKS (USNIM)

Image Source: Statista
AVERAGE NET INTEREST MARGIN OF BANKS IN THE UNITED STATES FROM 1995 TO 2019

Image Source: Liberty Street Economics 2017

Image Source: FRED
BANK’S NON-INTEREST INCOME TO TOTAL INCOME FOR UNITED STATES

Image Source: FRED
Net Interest Income for Commercial Banks in United States

Image Source: FRED
Bank Credit, All Commercial Banks (TOTBKCR)

Image Source: FRED
Loans and Leases in Bank Credit, All Commercial Banks (TOTLL)

Image Source: FRED
Commercial and Industrial Loans, All Commercial Banks (BUSLOANS)

Image Source: FRED
REAL ESTATE LOANS, ALL COMMERCIAL BANKS (REALLN)

Image Source: FRED
Consumer Loans, All Commercial Banks (CONSUMER)

Image Source: FRED
COMMERCIAL BANKS IN THE U.S. (USNUM)

Key Terms

  • Net Interest Margin
  • Profitability
  • Interest Income
  • Non Interest Income
  • Monetary Policy
  • Fed Funds Rate
  • 10 Year T Bond’s Rate
  • Shadow Banking
  • Search for Yield
  • Risk Taking
  • Housing Loans
  • Auto Loan
  • Deposits
  • Credit Cards
  • Money Markets Mutual Funds
  • Money Markets
  • Capital Markets
  • International Capital Flows
  • Diversification
  • Mergers
  • To Big to Fail
  • Non Core Business

My Related Posts

Low Interest Rates and Bank’s Profitability – Update May 2019

Low Interest Rates and Banks’ Profitability : Update July 2017

Low Interest Rates and Banks Profitability: Update – December 2016

Impact of Low Interest Rates on Bank’s Profitability

Non Interest Income of Banks: Diversification and Consolidation

Evolution of Banks Complexity

Shadow Banking

Funding Strategies of Banks

Low Interest Rates and Risk taking channel of Monetary Policy

Low Interest Rates and International Investment Position of USA

Low Interest Rates and International Capital Flows

Key Sources of Research

Bank profitability and risk‐taking under low interest rates

Jacob A. Bikker1,2 | Tobias M. Vervliet3

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/321277826_Bank_profitability_and_risk-taking_under_low_interest_rates

How banks can ease the pain of negative interest rates

March 3, 2020 | Article

https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/risk/our-insights/how-banks-can-ease-the-pain-of-negative-interest-rates#

Bank intermediation when interest rates are very low for long 

Michael Brei, Claudio Borio, Leonardo Gambacorta  

07 February 2020

https://voxeu.org/article/bank-intermediation-when-interest-rates-are-very-low-long

Implications of negative interest rates for the net interest margin and lending of euro area banks

by Melanie Klein

Monetary and Economic Department 

March 2020

Are Banks Exposed to Interest Rate Risk?

Pascal Paul and Simon W. Zhu

2020-16 | June 22, 2020 | Research from Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco

Negative rates and the transmission of monetary policy

Prepared by Miguel Boucinha and Lorenzo Burlon[1]

Published as part of the ECB Economic Bulletin, Issue 3/2020.

https://www.ecb.europa.eu/pub/economic-bulletin/articles/2020/html/ecb.ebart202003_02~4768be84e7.en.html#toc2

Is there a zero lower bound?
The effects of negative policy rates on banks and firms

Revised June 2020


The impact of very low interest rates on bank profitability

https://www.rbnz.govt.nz/financial-stability/financial-stability-report/fsr-november-2019/the-impact-of-very-low-interest-rates-on-bank-profitability

Bank intermediation activity in a low interest rate environment

by Michael Brei, Claudio Borio and Leonardo Gambacorta

Monetary and Economic Department August 2019

Do Negative Interest Rates Explain Low Profitability of European Banks?1

Nicholas Coleman* and Viktors Stebunovs*

https://www.federalreserve.gov/econres/notes/feds-notes/do-negative-interest-rates-explain-low-profitability-of-european-banks-20191129.htm

Monetary Policy and Bank Equity Values in a Time of Low and Negative Interest Rates1

Miguel Ampudia2 and Skander J. Van den Heuvel3 May 2019

Negative Interest Rates, Bank Profitability and Risk-taking

Whelsy Boungou

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/334528681_Negative_Interest_Rates_Bank_Profitability_and_Risk-taking

Monetary Policy and Bank Profitability in a Low Interest Rate Environment: A Follow-up and a Rejoinder

By Charles Goodhart and Ali Kabiri

Monetary Policy and Bank Profitability in a Low Interest Rate Environment

Carlo Altavilla, Miguel Boucinha and José-Luis Peydró

Barcelona GSE Working Paper: 1101 | May 2019

https://www.barcelonagse.eu/research/working-papers/monetary-policy-and-bank-profitability-low-interest-rate-environment

Going Negative at the Zero Lower Bound: The Effects of Negative Nominal Interest Rates

Mauricio Ulate Campos Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco

September 2019

NEGATIVE NOMINAL INTEREST RATES AND THE BANK LENDING CHANNEL

Gauti B. Eggertsson Ragnar E. Juelsrud Lawrence H. Summers Ella Getz Wold

Working Paper 25416

Implications of negative interest rates for the net interest margin and lending of euro area banks

Melanie Klein

Negative Nominal Interest Rates: A Primer

https://www.moneyandbanking.com/commentary/2019/11/30/negative-nominal-interest-rates-a-primer

Trends in the Noninterest Income of Banks

Joseph G. Haubrich and Tristan Young

https://www.clevelandfed.org/en/newsroom-and-events/publications/economic-commentary/2019-economic-commentaries/ec-201914-trends-in-the-noninterest-income-of-banks.aspx

Negative interest rates in the euro area: does it hurt banks?

https://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/economics/negative-interest-rates-in-the-euro-area-does-it-hurt-banks_d3227540-en

Interest rate pass-through in the low interest rate environment

Average net interest margin of banks in the United States from 1995 to 2019

https://www.statista.com/statistics/210869/net-interest-margin-for-all-us-banks/

Effective Federal Funds Rate (FEDFUNDS)

https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/FEDFUNDS

https://www.newyorkfed.org/markets/obfrinfo

How low interest rates can hurt competition, and the economy

They help big companies more than small ones, depressing investment and productivity

https://review.chicagobooth.edu/economics/2019/article/how-low-interest-rates-can-hurt-competition-and-economy

Monetary Policy Report

June 12, 2020

Federal Reserve

The Long Decline of Global Interest Rates

Posted On :  Published By : BER staff

GLOBAL FINANCIAL STABILITY REPORT:

Markets in the Time of COVID-19

Chapter 4

April 2020

IMF

https://www.imf.org/en/Publications/GFSR/Issues/2020/04/14/global-financial-stability-report-april-2020

Low Interest Rates and Bank Profits

Katherine Di Lucido, Anna Kovner, and Samantha Zeller

Liberty Street Economics

2017

https://libertystreeteconomics.newyorkfed.org/2017/06/low-interest-rates-and-bank-profits.html

Bank’s Non-Interest Income to Total Income for United States (DDEI03USA156NWDB)

https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/DDEI03USA156NWDB

Net Interest Income for Commercial Banks in United States

Net Interest Margin for all U.S. Banks (USNIM)

https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/USNIM

Commercial Banks in the U.S. (USNUM)

https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/USNUM

Loans and Leases in Bank Credit, All Commercial Banks (TOTLL)

https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/TOTLL

Bank Credit, All Commercial Banks (TOTBKCR)

https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/TOTBKCR

Commercial and Industrial Loans, All Commercial Banks (BUSLOANS)

https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/BUSLOANS

Consumer Credit

https://fred.stlouisfed.org/categories/101

Real Estate Loans, All Commercial Banks (REALLN)

https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/REALLN

Consumer Loans, All Commercial Banks (CONSUMER)

https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/CONSUMER

Low Interest Rates and Business Investments – Update October 2020

Low Interest Rates and Business Investments – Update October 2020

There has been several new research on the topic of Low Interest Rates and Business Investments since my last post.

Decision Making by Firms in Low Interest rates environment

  • Invest and Grow
  • Merge / Consolidate
  • Pay Dividends
  • Buyback Shares
  • Divestures
  • Acquisitions
  • Horizontal Mergers (Market Share)
  • Vertical Mergers (Costs)
  • Innovation M&A (New Tech, New Product)

Key Terms

  • Business Investments
  • Monetary Polcy
  • Zero Lower Bound
  • Interest Rates
  • Fed Funds Rate
  • Corporate Finance
  • Hurdle Rates
  • Capital Budgeting
  • Internal Rate of Return IRR
  • CAGR Compond Annual Growth Rate
  • Cost of Capital
  • Discounted Cash Flow
  • Net Present Value
  • Mergers vs Investments
  • Organic Growth
  • Inorganic Growth
  • State of the Industry
  • State of the Economy
  • Liquidity Financial
  • Bank Lending
  • Capital Markets
  • Economic Growth
  • Corporate Planning
  • Strategic Planning
  • Strategic Management

My Related Posts

Increasing Market Concentration in USA: Update April 2019

Rising Market Concentration and Declining Business Investments in the USA – Update June 2018

Low Interest Rates and Business Investments : Update August 2017

Business Investments and Low Interest Rates

Cash and Investments: Corporate Savings Glut in USA

Low Interest Rates and Monetary Policy Effectiveness

Low Interest Rates and Risk taking channel of Monetary Policy

Low Interest Rates and International Investment Position of USA

Low Interest Rates and Bank’s Profitability – Update May 2019

Low Interest Rates and Banks’ Profitability : Update July 2017

Low Interest Rates and Banks Profitability: Update – December 2016

Impact of Low Interest Rates on Bank’s Profitability

The Decline in Long Term Real Interest Rates

Cash and Investments: Corporate Savings Glut in USA

Why do Firms buyback their Shares? Causes and Consequences.

Short term Thinking in Investment Decisions of Businesses and Financial Markets

Key Sources of Reserach

Lengthy era of rock-bottom interest rates leaving its mark on U.S. economy

Weak demand in U.S. and other rich nations explains historic shift

Washington Post

https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2020/10/03/low-interest-rates/

Do Interest Rates Affect Business Investment? Evidence from Australian Company-level Data

Jonathan Hambur and Gianni La Cava

Low Interest Rates Have Benefits … and Costs

Kevin L. Kliesen

October 1, 2010

https://www.stlouisfed.org/publications/regional-economist/october-2010/low-interest-rates-have-benefits–and-costs

Low for Long?
Causes and Consequences of Persistently Low Interest Rates

Geneva Reports on the World Economy 17 Charles Bean

London School of Economics and CEPR

Christian Broda

Duquesne Capital Management

Takatoshi Ito

SIPA Columbia University and CEPR

Randall Kroszner

Booth School of Business, University of Chicago

2015

Low Interest Rates, Market Power, and Productivity Growth∗

Ernest Liu

Princeton University

Atif Mian
Princeton University and NBER

Amir Sufi
University of Chicago Booth School of Business and NBER

August 18, 2020

The Economic Effects of Low Interest Rates and Unconventional Monetary Policy

17 September 2020

Rochelle Guttmann, Dana Lawson and Peter Rickards

RBA

https://www.rba.gov.au/publications/bulletin/2020/sep/the-economic-effects-of-low-interest-rates-and-unconventional-monetary-policy.html

Firms’ Investment Decisions and Interest Rates

Kevin Lane and Tom Rosewall

RBA

Has Business Fixed Investment Really Been Unusually Low?

By François Gourio

Chicago Fed Letter, No. 418, 2019

https://www.chicagofed.org/publications/chicago-fed-letter/2019/418

Fiscal Policy with High Debt and Low Interest Rates

William Gale

July 1, 2019

The impact of negative interest rates on banks and firms 

Carlo Altavilla, Lorenzo Burlon, Mariassunta Giannetti, Sarah Holton  

08 November 2019

https://voxeu.org/article/impact-negative-interest-rates-banks-and-firms

Global Trends in Interest Rates

Marco Del Negro Domenico Giannone Marc P. Giannoni Andrea Tambalotti

Staff Report No. 866 September 2018

Financial stability implications of a prolonged period of low interest rates

Report submitted by a Working Group established by the Committee on the Global Financial System

The Group was co-chaired by Ulrich Bindseil (European Central Bank) and Steven B Kamin (Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System)

July 2018

BIS

Eight centuries of global real interest rates, R-G, and the ‘suprasecular’ decline, 1311-2018.

Paul Schmelzing

https://economics.rutgers.edu/downloads-hidden-menu/news-and-events/workshops/money-history-and-finance/1823-paulschmelzing/file

Low Interest Rates and Risk Taking: Evidence from Individual Investment Decisions

Review of Financial Studies

49 Pages Posted: 14 Jul 2016 Last revised: 29 Aug 2018

Chen Lian

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

Yueran Ma

University of Chicago – Booth School of Business

Carmen Wang

Harvard University – Department of Economics; HBS Negotiations, Organizations and Markets Unit

Date Written: August 22, 2018

https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2809191

MONETARY POLICY, CORPORATE FINANCE AND INVESTMENT

James Cloyne Clodomiro Ferreira Maren Froemel Paolo Surico

Determinants of the real interest rate

Remarks by Philip R. Lane, Member of the Executive Board of the ECB, at the National Treasury Management Agency

Dublin, 28 November 2019

https://www.ecb.europa.eu/press/key/date/2019/html/ecb.sp191128_1~de8e7283e6.en.html

Understanding Weak Capital Investment: the Role of Market Concentration and Intangibles∗

Nicolas Crouzet and Janice Eberly

Prepared for the Jackson Hole Economic Policy Symposium Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City

August 23 – 25, 2018 This version: May 14, 2019

Monetary policy in advanced economies

Low policy rates are here to stay

https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/insights/economy/monetary-policy-low-interest-rates-advanced-economies.html

Have low interest rates led to excessive risk taking?

https://www.aeaweb.org/forum/311/have-low-interest-rates-led-to-excessive-risk-taking

The Policy Perils of Low Interest Rates

The consequences of prolonged low interest rates in Europe

https://www.gisreportsonline.com/the-consequences-of-prolonged-low-interest-rates-in-europe,economy,2465.html

Increasing Market Concentration – Update October 2020

Increasung Market Concentration – Update October 2020

In this post I have compiled several newly published papers books and articles on the subject of Increasing market concentration. Mainly in 2019 and 2020.

Books
  • The Curse of Bigness
  • The Myth of Capitalism
Several new reserach papers were published by
  • Cato Institute
  • Brookings Institution
  • Federal Reserve

Reports

Rational decision making by the firms

  • Organic Growth – Use business investments to grow business – During growth phase of the firm and the industry
  • Inorganic Growth – Use Mergers and Acquisitions to grow – During mature phase and Declining Markets due to Technological Changes
  • Casacading effects
    • Leaders merge
    • Laggards merge
    • Suppliers merge
  • Micro Motives and Macro Behavior
  • What is good for a firm, May not be good for economy

Key Terms

  • Shareholder Capitalism
  • Market Concentration
  • Industry Concentration
  • Horizontal Merger
  • Verical Merger
  • Mergers and Acquisition
  • Competition Policy
  • Profits and Profitability
  • Corporate Finance
  • Anti Trust Laws
  • Industry Consolidation
  • Capitalism
  • Market Share
  • Competitive Dynamics
  • Organic Growth
  • Inorganic Growth
  • Business Investments
  • Macro Growth
  • Market Maturity
  • Product Life Cycles
  • Technological Changes
  • Wealth and Income Inequality
  • Monopoly
  • Oligopoly
  • Cross Border Mergers
  • Innovation based Mergers in Technology
  • HHI

My Related Posts

Shareholder Capitalism: Rising Market Concentration, Slower Productivity Growth, Rising Inequality, Rising Profits, and Rising Equities Markets

Rising Market Concentration and Declining Business Investments in the USA – Update June 2018

Rising Profits, Rising Inequality, and Rising Industry Concentration in the USA

Competition, Concentration, and Anti-Trust Laws in the USA

Concentration, Investment, and Growth

Increasing Market Concentration in USA: Update April 2019

Mergers and Acquisitions – Long Term Trends and Waves

The Decline in Long Term Real Interest Rates

Low Interest Rates and Business Investments : Update August 2017

Business Investments and Low Interest Rates

Why do Firms buyback their Shares? Causes and Consequences.

Cash and Investments: Corporate Savings Glut in USA

Key sources of Research

What if Rising Concentration were an Indication of More Cimpetition, not Less?

Causes, Consequences, and Policy Responses to Market Concentration

The Rise of Corporate Market Power

Market Concentration Is Threatening the U.S. Economy

The United States’s low-growth/high-inequality problem is due to too few firms holding too much power.CHAZEN GLOBAL INSIGHTSJoseph E. Stiglitz March 12, 2019 

https://www8.gsb.columbia.edu/articles/chazen-global-insights/market-concentration-threatening-us-economy

Increasing market concentration in Europe is more likely to be a sign of strength than a cause for concern 

Tommaso Bighelli, Filippo di Mauro, Marc Melitz, Matthias Mertens  13 October 2020

https://voxeu.org/article/increasing-market-concentration-europe-more-likely-be-sign-strength-cause-concern

The Economics and Politics of Market Concentration

Thomas Philippon

https://www.nber.org/reporter/2019number4/economics-and-politics-market-concentration

The Great Consolidation:
Industry and Equity Market Concentration after the Crisis

Top 5 Highly Concentrated Manufacturing Industries

by Marisa Lifschutz, Senior Analyst – Team Lead 
May 02 2019 

https://www.ibisworld.com/industry-insider/analyst-insights/top-5-highly-concentrated-manufacturing-industries/

How Market Power has Increased US Inequality

Are Markets Becoming Less Competitive?

Federal Reserve of Richmond

2019

https://www.richmondfed.org/publications/research/economic_brief/2019/eb_19-06/

Trends in Financial Market Concentration and Their Implications for Market Stability

Is Rising Concentration Hampering Productivity Growth?

Peter J. Klenow, Huiyu Li, and Theodore Naff

Rising Bank Concentration

Dean CorbaeUniversity of Wisconsin – Madison and NBER

Pablo D’Erasmo

Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia

https://www.minneapolisfed.org/research/staff-reports/rising-bank-concentration

Are Markets Too Concentrated?

Industries are increasingly concentrated in the hands of fewer firms. But is that a bad thing?Article by: Tim Sablik

Richmond Federal Reserve

https://www.richmondfed.com/publications/research/econ_focus/2018/q1/cover_story

Have Acquisitions of Failed Banks Increased the Concentration of U.S. Banking Markets? 

By Wheelock, David C.

https://www.questia.com/library/journal/1G1-257675083/have-acquisitions-of-failed-banks-increased-the-concentration

Large Banks Improve Competition and Consumer Choice in Local Markets

Sean Campbell•20 May 2019•

https://www.fsforum.com/types/press/blog/large-banks-improve-competition-consumer-choice/

Low Interest Rates Don’t Drive Market Concentration

A critical assessment of Atif Mian, Amir Sufi and Ernest Liu’s paper 

https://nathantankus.substack.com/p/low-interest-rates-dont-drive-market

Market Power and Monetary Policy

Speech given by

Andrew G Haldane Chief Economist Bank of England

Competition and Productivity: A Review of Evidence

Thomas J. Holmes

University of Minnesota,
Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis,
and National Bureau of Economic Research

James A. Schmitz, Jr.
Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis

2010

Understanding market concentration: internet-based applications from the banking industry

Abstract

Fred H. Hays
University of Missouri-Kansas City

Sidne Gail Ward University of Missouri-Kansas City

Concentration, market power and dynamism in the euro area

Monopoly Myths: Are Markets Becoming More Concentrated?

Joe Kennedy 

June 29, 2020

https://itif.org/publications/2020/06/29/monopoly-myths-are-markets-becoming-more-concentrated

BENEFITS OF COMPETITION AND INDICATORS

2016

Council of Economic Advisors

Obama whitehouse

Why Is the Stock Market So Strong When the Economy Is Weak?

The Myth of Capitalism: Monopolies and the Death of Competition

Jonathan TepperDenise Hearn (With)

ISBN: 978-1-119-54819-5 November 2018 320 Pages

https://www.wiley.com/en-us/The+Myth+of+Capitalism%3A+Monopolies+and+the+Death+of+Competition-p-9781119548195

Number of Banks in USA

https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/USNUM

Number of Listed Companies in USA

https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/DDOM01USA644NWDB

Long-Term Government Bond Yields: 10-year: Main (Including Benchmark) for the United States 

https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/IRLTLT01USM156N

Mergers and Acquisitions Data for USA and Worldwide

http://www.imaa-institute.org

Market Power, Inequality, and Financial Instability

Isabel Cair ́o and Jae Sim 

2020-057

What Happened to U.S. Business Dynamism?1

Ufuk Akcigit and Sina T. Ates

https://www.federalreserve.gov/econres/notes/feds-notes/what-happened-to-us-business-dynamism-20200214.htm

Untangling the Complex Causes of Inequality

December 4, 2018

https://www.frbatlanta.org/economy-matters/economic-research/2018/12/04/untangling-the-complex-causes-of-income-wealth-and-opportunity-inequality

Capitalism is not the source of our economic struggles

The real culprit is less obvious but can be remedied

Increased corporate concentration and the influence of market power

The New Economic Concentration

The competition that justifies capitalism is being destroyed—by capitalists.

BY DAVID DAYEN

JANUARY 16, 2019

https://prospect.org/power/new-economic-concentration/

SUPPLEMENTAL NOTES ON MARKET CONCENTRATION AND MARKET POWER

By
Dennis L. Weisman

The Curse of Bigness
Antitrust in the New Gilded Age

The Curse of Bigness by Tim Wu

Aesthetics and Ethics

Aesthetics and Ethics

  • Aesthetics and Ethics are interdependent on each other
  • Steps to an Ecology of mind

Why do good? Why be moral?

  • Do good because its a good value for a virtuous person
  • Do good out of compassion and love for others
  • Do good because it is good for one’s self
  • Do good because world outside is none other than yourself. (Vedantic Perspective)

Aesthetics

  • of Design
  • of Arts
  • of Performance Arts
  • of Rituals
  • of Traditions
  • of Narrative Arts
  • of Culture
  • of Architecture
  • of Actions
  • of Thoughts
  • of Senses
  • of Emotions
  • of Values
  • of Experience

Key Terms

  • Virtues
  • Values
  • Aesthetics
  • Arts
  • Morals
  • Ethics
  • Good ness
  • Art and Morals
  • Aesthetics and Ethics
  • Beauty and Goodness
  • Ist person and 2nd Person
  • Integral Theory
  • Ken Wilber
  • Self, Culture, Nature
  • I, We, It/Its
  • Immanual Kant
  • Wittgenstein
  • Sameness and Otherness
  • Difference
  • Boundaries and Networks
  • Hierarchy and Networks
  • Plato and Aristotle
  • Action Learning
  • Reflexive Action
  • Social Ethics
  • Communities of Goodness
  • Environmental Ethics
  • Inter-objectivity
  • Inter-subjectivity
  • Subject and Object
  • Phenomenology and Hermenutics
  • Virtue Ethics
  • Development and Relations
  • Internal vs External
  • Individual vs Collective
  • Culture, Society, and Ethics
  • Narrative Arts
  • Intentions and Actions
  • Sewa and Service
  • Altruism
  • Philosophy of Arts
  • Aesthetics of living culture
  • Traditions, Rituals, and Culture
  • Classical Education
  • Arts and Humanities
  • Dance, Music and Performance Arts
  • Universals
  • Transcendentals
  • Ethnomethodology
  • Nondual Vedanta (Advait Vedanta)
  • Steps to an Ecology of Mind
  • Value Theory
  • Virtue Theory
  • Art Criticism
  • Taste, Style, Manners
  • Relational
  • Aesthetics and Relatedness
  • Consciousness
  • Nondual Awareness
  • Interconnectedness

Ethics as Aesthetics: Foucault’S Critique of Moralization of Ethics

This study found a new idea of ethics to bridge the gap between morality and aesthetics. This new idea is called aesthetics morality. This study concluded as follows: 1) ethics as morality is in the form of teleology, deontology and virtue ethics; 2) ethics is a synthesis of aesthetics and morality; and 3) ethics is aesthetics in the form of care of the self. 

Ethics as Style:
Wittgenstein’s Aesthetic Ethics and Ethical Aesthetics

An inquiry into Wittgenstein’s ethics and aesthetics has to start with the following questions: Can an aesthetics and/or ethics be extracted from his philosophical texts at all? If yes, what kind of aesthetics and/or ethics does Wittgenstein offer beyond his well-known aphoristic comments on the subject? Finally, how can we understand the meaning of his claim that ‘‘ethics and aesthetics are one’’? This article responds to the above questions by presenting an account of Wittgenstein’s ethical aesthetics and aesthetic ethics, elucidating both through the prism of his notion of style as ‘‘general necessity seen sub specie eterni.’’ It explains how logical necessity implodes within the limits of propositional language to open onto the realm of style, within which ethical necessity is to be understood in terms of aesthetic life-form and aesthetic expression is to be understood in terms of ethical enactment.

Es ist klar, daß sich die Ethik nicht aussprechen läßt. Die Ethik ist transzendental.
(Ethik und Ästhetik sind Eins.)

[It is clear that ethics cannot be expressed. Ethics is transcendental.
(Ethics and aesthetics are one.)]
Ludwig Wittgenstein

Aesthetics and Ethics: Essays at the Intersection

This book brings together a number of new essays in an area of growing concern, namely the intersection or overlap of aesthetics and ethics. Recent developments aside, for the past thirty years or so in Anglo-American philosophy, aesthetics and ethics have been pursued in relative isolation, with aesthetics being generally regarded as the poorer, if flashier, cousin. The attention aestheticians have recently given to moral aspects of art and art criticism, and that ethicists have recently paid to aesthetic aspects of moral life and moral evaluation, give hope of ending this rather artificial isolation, though without necessarily forcing us to accede in Wittgenstein’s gnomic dictum that “ethics and aesthetics are one.”

The intersection of aesthetics and ethics can be understood to comprise three spheres of inquiry. The first is that of problems or presuppositions common to aesthetics and ethics, the two traditional branches of value theory. The second is that of ethical issues in aesthetics, or in the practice of art. And the third sphere is that of aesthetic issues in ethics, theoretical and applied.

As it turns out, the concerns of the present collection do not span the full intersection of aesthetics and ethics as just explained. For reasons of both unity and manageability, the decision was made to foreground aesthetics in the present venture. The result is that the essays fall under the first and second, but not the third ways of understanding the intersection of the two fields.

2 – Three versions of objectivity: aesthetic, moral, and scientific

How does the objective validity of aesthetic judgments compare with the objective validity of moral judgments and scientific beliefs? There are two traditional answers. According to one, aesthetic and moral appraisals both utterly lack the cognitive authority of scientific inquiry, since neither kind of appraiser has access to a fact independent of her own judgments and neither is in a position to claim that all who are adequately qualified would share her judgment. For example, emotivists deprive both aesthetic and moral judgments of both kinds of objectivity. According to the other tradition, well-formed aesthetic and moral judgments have the same cognitive authority as wellformed scientific beliefs, because in all three realms the judgment maker is often in a position to assert a truth independent of her judgments, in a claim to which all adequately qualified inquirers would assent. For example, Kant puts the three realms on a par in both ways.

Each of these traditions has distinctive liabilities, which jointly suggest the need to explore a third alternative. The debunking tradition, depriving both aesthetic and moral judgments of all the authority of science, is hard to reconcile with the pervasive aspirations to truth and interests in impersonal argument of apparently rational people engaged in moral and aesthetic judgment. On the other hand, the claims to universality in the elevating tradition often seem wishful thinking.

Elsewhere, I have defended a view of morality and science that rejects the association in both traditions of rational access to appraiser-independent truth with epistemic universality.

5 – Art, narrative, and moral understanding

With much art, we are naturally inclined to speak of it in moral terms. Especially when considering things like novels, short stories, epic poems, plays, and movies, we seem to fall effortlessly into talking about them in terms of ethical significance – in terms of whether or which characters are virtuous or vicious, and about whether the work itself is moral or immoral, and perhaps whether it is sexist or racist. Undoubtedly, poststructuralists will choke on my use of the phrase “naturally inclined,” just because they do not believe that humans are naturally inclined toward anything. But that general premise is as needlessly strong a presupposition as it is patently false. And, furthermore, I hope to show that my talk of natural inclinations is hardly misplaced here, for we are prone to respond to the types of works in question in the language of moral assessment exactly because of the kinds of things they are.

Moreover, we do not merely make moral assessments of artworks as a whole and characters in particular; it is also the case that these moral assessments are variable. That is, we find some artworks to be morally good, while some others are not; some are exemplary, while some others are vicious and perhaps even pernicious; and finally other works may not appear to call for either moral approbation or opprobrium. So, though we very frequently do advance moral assessments of artworks, it is important to stress that we have a gamut of possible evaluative judgments at our disposal: from the morally good to the bad to the ugly, to the morally indifferent and the irrelvant.

Problems at the Intersection of Aesthetics and Ethics

The Intersection of Aesthetics and Ethics

Ever since the publication of Kant’s Critique of Judgment, the concept of taste has been severed from its moral sense and reduced to a merely aesthetic one.1 Since then two trends have predominated in moral philosophy. The first is a rationalist view of ethics, which proposes the need to subsume particular actions under universal laws. Deontological and utilitarian theories both have this paradigm in common. The second is the refraction of this position, which marginalizes any discussion of moral feeling as a psychological question of emotivism or subjectivism.2 This trend of positivism dismisses feelings as mere emotive states, questions of psychology, subjective, and therefore not binding.

In order to recapture the aesthetic dimensions of moral experience, one needs a view of aesthetics that is not limited to reflections on the beautiful and sublime in nature or art and that is not reducible to an allegiance to taste and manners; and one needs a continuity principle that enables reflection on morality to be true to experience. Two process philosophers, Alfred North Whitehead and John Dewey, present a metaphysics of experience which enriches ethics by illustrating the aesthetic dimensions of moral experience. Where the traditions outlined above view reason as the pivotal faculty in navigating the moral landscape, process philosophy emphasizes the aesthetic categories of feeling and imagination as operative in moral experience.

Those skeptical of “aestheticizing morality” often invoke the show-stopping reference to the Nazi Regime, one which consciously and politically recruited aesthetic ideals toward the crystallization of immorality.3 This is the Reductio ad Hitlerum to which the title refers. Fascism and Nazism in particular habituated a marriage between politics and aesthetics, and took up the goal of making politics a triumphant and beautiful spectacle.4 Art, music, and aesthetic symbols were recruited as instruments toward fulfilling this goal.5 Nazi Germany held “countless historical pageants, Volk festivals, military parades, propaganda films, art exhibitions and [erected] grandiose buildings”6 in order to exemplify “the fascist desire to invent mythic imperial pasts and futures,”7 while stirring the passions of the people for its war efforts. The Nazis denounced any allegiance to liberal political texts such as the Versailles Treaty “in favor of decisive political action based on fatal aesthetic criteria — beautiful vs. ugly, healthy vs. degenerate, German vs. Jew.”8 It is warranted to invoke this as the problem for those who “aestheticize” morality. The Nazi problematic, illustrated by an analysis of two films surrounding the immorality of the Nazi Regime, James Ivory’s The Remains of the Day (1993) and István Szabó’s Taking Sides (2001) illuminates the limitations and failures of the tendency to “aestheticize” morality. These films help show the nuances that reside at this tense intersection between aesthetics and ethics. However, tension between aesthetics and ethics, as depicted by the two films, dissolves once one’s understanding of aesthetics ceases to be reductive and narrow.

The aesthetic dimensions of moral experience in the philosophies of Alfred North Whitehead and John Dewey provide a basis for defining the continuity between ethics and aesthetics. For Whitehead, an aesthetic vision which builds on insights of his descriptive metaphysics enables us to see moral experience as aesthetic. For Dewey, the imagination works on the possibilities at hand in order to resolve morally problematic situations, and the grist for the imagination’s mill is experiential, perceptual, and aesthetic, not merely rational or conceptual. Thus, the broad use of aesthetics advocated herein enables us to draw moral distinctions in the face of Nazi atrocities instead of blindly serving the ideal of artistic creation. Nor does it reduce aesthetics to a fetish for manners. Rather, as including imagination, perception, taste, and emotion, an aesthetic orientation to ethics can encompass the limits posed by these films, and it can morally condemn the Nazi Regime and avoid the Hitler-reductio.

A.N. Whitehead at the Intersection

A sketch of Whitehead’s metaphysics is necessary in order to show how the foundations for moral action may be subsumed under the category of aesthetic experience. According to Whitehead’s systematic metaphysics, the world is a process of becoming. It is ultimately composed of self-creating “actual occasions.”9 The act of self-creation is the “concrescence” of an actual entity, “the final real things of which the world is made up.”10 Thus an “entity” describes an occasion or event in the mode of concrescense, the act of an occasion having prehended its environment. Events create themselves by virtue of their interdependence. The mode of relation each entity has toward others and toward its possibilities in general is “feeling.” “Prehensions” are the feelings which each entity has of its environment, which includes the entire universe, as each entity pulsates and vibrates throughout the cosmos in its process of self-creation.11 Since Whitehead holds that relations are more fundamental than substance, these prehensions constitute the actual entity. Where in traditional metaphysics, substance is primary and the relations among substances are described as secondary attributes, in Whitehead’s description entities are internally related, constituted by their relations. In this process metaphysics, relations are not secondary but primary in that they constitute the entities. When an actual entity prehends its environment, the entity constitutes itself and makes itself what it is.12Each entity serves as the subject of its own becoming and the “superject” of others, imparting itself to other entities in their becoming.13 Actual entities, in process metaphysics, are events, occasions in time, and always situated in a complex, interdependent environment of other entities. Thus, Whitehead’s speculative metaphysics is relational, not atomistic.

This speculative picture of reality lends itself to reflections on moral experience, including an account of Whitehead’s theory of value. In Process and Reality, Whitehead’s theory of value uses strong aesthetic language. He describes intensity of experience as “strength of beauty”: the degree of feeling in an occasion’s prehension of its environment. 14 Further, as John Cobb notes, “The chief ingredients [to beautiful experience] are emotional.”15 The actual entity prehends its environment, feeling its aesthetic surrounding in a chiefly emotional comportment. Because the locus of value is the intensity and harmony of an experience and the emotional sphere contributes chiefly to beautiful experience, emotion need not be corralled by reason, but channeled toward the achievement of beauty. Further, Whitehead shows that philosophers who treat feelings as merely private are mistakenly taking a phase of concrescence to be the whole of experience. For Whitehead, “there is no element in the universe capable of pure privacy.”16 The impossibility of pure privacy undermines the conceptual option of positivists and others who atomize and privatize feeling in order to dismiss its role in moral experiences as subjectivism or emotivism, both of which result in relativism.

Moral experience and aesthetic experience work dialectically: “The function of morality is to promote beauty in experience,”17 but emotions inform morality by adding to the value of experience. Sensation and emotion are not passively received, private reifications; instead, they seamlessly compose the environment we inhabit. Cobb contends that “the purely aesthetic impulse and the moral one exist in a tension” and that “the good aimed at for others is an aesthetic good — the strength of beauty of their experience.”18

Whitehead writes:

In our own relatively high grade human existence, this doctrine of feelings and their subject is best illustrated by our notion of moral responsibility. The subject is responsible for being what it is in virtue of its feelings. It is also derivatively responsible for the consequences of its existence because they flow from its feelings.19

That our existence flows from our feelings reveals the foundation of moral action on aesthetic, αἰσθηματικός, “sensuous” experience. When Whitehead contends that our moral actions flow from our feelings, he places a primacy upon our emotional comportment. The main contribution we make to others is our spirit or attitude.20This spirit is a comportment and temperament, an angle of vision. If our vision is broad and seeks to contribute to the strength of beauty of others’ experience, it is continuous with moral experience. Moral vision is attitudinal and acting according to calculation, deliberation, and reason, while poor in spirit, is not moral action. Whitehead posits a theory of value where our goal is to realize a strength of beauty in our immediate occasions of action. Taking a calculating attitude towards future consequences endangers this goal.21 It is misleading to think that one can calculate rationally toward that best action.22 Rather, such moral rationalism can justify activity that we feel is inhumane, evil, ugly, unjust, and wrong. It can sever means from ends and justify that which our sentiments would impeach.

Whitehead’s speculative metaphysics, by using humanistic and aesthetic language, includes a description of moral experience. Occasions of activity become harmonious with their environment by acting in the service of beauty. Actions emanate from feelings, and right action is not the function of rational deliberation, but of whole-part relations, of fitting the variety of detail and contrast under the unity of an aesthetic concrescence. Whitehead’s is a seductive account of reality, but nowhere in it do we find something like evil. Those skeptical of such an aesthetic description of moral experience may ask, “Where is the Holocaust in this picture?” Thus, below a recourse to two films about Nazism, aesthetics, and morality enables the skeptic to reexamine the continuity between ethics and aesthetics and consider a broader, less reductive, understanding of aesthetics itself. Before addressing this question, another account of how process philosophy maintains continuity between ethics and aesthetics is in order.

John Dewey at the Intersection

In order to outline Dewey’s description of the aesthetic dimensions of moral experience, a cursory illustration of the continuity at work in his metaphysics of experience and theory of inquiry is in order. Dewey described the generic traits of human experience as both precarious and stable.23 Indeterminate situations produce the conditions of instability.24 Subjecting a precarious situation to inquiry constitutes it as problematic, enabling an agent to identify possible means of resolving the situations within the constituent features of the uniquely given situation. Our employment of imaginative intelligence directs our activity in an effort to resolve the situation by rearranging the conditions of indeterminacy toward settlement and unification.25

In a manner similar to Whitehead, Dewey refers to the creative integration of the entire complex situation with the term “value.”26 One constituent in the activity of unifying the problematic situation is the end-in-view, which functions as a specific action coordinating all other factors involved in the institution and resolution of the problem. The value is the integration and unification of the situation. When the end-in-view functions successfully toward the integration of the situation, the resultant unification is a “consummatory phase of experience.”27 Dewey wrote, “Values are naturalistically interpreted as intrinsic qualities of events in their consummatory reference.”28 Their naturalistic interpretation renders the experience of value and the process of valuation continuous with other natural processes. That is, the ends-in-view, whether or not these are moral ideals, do not exist antecedent to inquiry into the complex, historical, and uniquely given situation, as the rationalists would have it. The general traits of moral experience are found within aesthetic experience — dispelling the need dichotomize experience into the cognitive and the emotional — because values are qualities of events.

The ability to examine the aesthetic dimensions of moral experience depends on the way Dewey defines an aesthetically unified and integrated experience as consummatory. The consummation refers to the experience of the unification of meaning of all of the phases of a complex experience.29 Thus, the aesthetic experience gives a holistic meaning to the precariousness of its parts. The value of an experience, including moral value, refers, as in Whitehead’s description, to whole-part relations and the unification of various elements therein.

Art is the skill of giving each phase its meaning in light of the whole. Art unifies each function of the experience, giving reflection, action, desire, and imagination an integrated relation both to each other and to the possibility of meaningful resolution.30 Thus, Dewey refuses to parcel out a separate faculty at work in isolation in any meaningful experience, whether that is reason in cognition or emotion in sympathetic attention to a friend. The consummatory experience is one in which we employ imaginative intelligence in appropriating aesthetic, felt elements of experience above and beyond their immediacy and one in which the instability of their immediacy is seen imaginatively as a possibility toward its meaningful integration.31

Thus, artful conduct includes moral conduct, but in a way that both avoids the need to import ideals transcendent to our experience and gives moral ideals their reality in the meaning that ensues in the consequences of their enactment. The features of artful conduct inherent in moral behavior concern the ability to see possibilities in the elements of precariousness, “to see the actual in light of the possible.”32 Where the rationalist searches for a universal concept to justify a given, isolated action whose justification could be known but not felt, the moral imagination enables the agent to envision in her environment the constituent possibilities in order to reconstruct the situation.

Both Whitehead and Dewey treat moral experience as continuous with the aesthetic experience of intensity, meaning, unification, and harmony found in the consummatory phase of experience, or in Whitehead’s terms, in concrescence. Both treat vision and imagination, not calculative rationality, as operative in navigating morally problematic situations. The general trend running through these process philosophies that maintains continuity between ethics and aesthetics concerns whole-part relations. The individual in morally charged situations must harmonize her particular conduct to the whole of her environment broadly construed. She must imaginatively find the proper fit of her conduct with her greater cultural context. If she succeeds, she harmonizes her experience and the part coheres with the whole. Value, harmony, and stability ensue. Whitehead and Dewey describe our moral experience at a sufficient level of abstraction, one which could include the hosting of a dinner party or the conducting of an orchestra. Each part must cohere with the whole — harmony is the motivating ideal.

Much like Whitehead, Dewey gives us a processive account of reality which seems to cohere with personal experience; however, Dewey’s description of the pattern of inquiry has been accused of being so broad and vague that the Nazi resolution of the Jewish problem could be described according to it..33 The Germans under Hitler constituted their situation during the Great Depression as problematic. Their economy was in shambles, and their national pride was wounded. They found within their situation the constitutive elements, marginally-German, supposed conspirators and enemies of all sorts, to employ in resolving their situation. They achieved a sort of integration of their experience and a distorted sort of harmony in armament and invasion to reincorporate native Germans outside of their truncated borders. They consciously recruited aesthetic ideals and played on the national emotions of soil and blood. Thus, according to the Hitler-reductio, to condemn morally their actions with the language of Dewey or Whitehead is no easy task. The reductio causes moral philosophers to long for universality in any of its rationalist iterations.

The British Problem at the Intersection: The Remains of the Day

The philosophical depiction of aesthetic experience, of which moral dimensions compose a part, is problematic if individuals acting under aesthetic norms, guided by manners and in service of harmonizing part-whole relations, engage in outright immorality or shy away from moral duty in the face of evil. This is the “British” problem because to highlight it, we must attend to the British characters in The Remains of the Day. While much has been written on the film (and the Ishiguro novel upon which it is based), about the role of class and the symbolic nature of British imperial politics, the film also serves as an excellent test case for the continuity between aesthetics and ethics.34 The setting of The Remains of the Day, the aristocratic estate of Darlington Hall in rural England, announces an aesthetic emphasis on beauty and order which persists throughout the film. Most of the action in the film occurs in the pre-war 1930s, but the film flashes forward to the post-war 1950s to show “present” character interactions. The central characters are an emotionally-repressed butler, Mr. Stevens (Anthony Hopkins), his superior and owner of the estate in the 1930s, Lord Darlington (James Fox), and his fellow caretaker of the estate, Miss Kenton (Emma Thompson). The problematic relationship between aesthetic orientation and morality comes into view by focusing on Lord Darlington’s demeanor throughout the events of the 1930s, and Mr. Stevens’s comportment to the politically and morally problematic events that unfold at Darlington Hall.

Lord Darlington had a friend in Germany against whom he fought in the First World War, with whom he intended to sit down and have a drink after the war. But this never happened, as the German friend, ruined by the inflation that ensued in the post-Versailles Weimar Republic, took his own life. Lord Darlington exclaims to Mr. Stevens, “The Versailles Treaty made a liar out of me.” Darlington laments that the conditions of the treaty, (debt reparations, guilt clause) were too harsh: “Not how you treat a defeated foe,” as Darlington puts it. With this as his proximate motivation, Lord Darlington uses his influence to broker the policy of appeasementtoward Nazi Germany. It appears that Lord Darlington puts manners before moral duty. He hosts the delegates from Germany, France, and the United States at his home, and they dine dressed in black tie, served by the army of under-butlers commanded by Mr. Stevens.

One is tempted to view Lord Darlington’s behavior as kind, if not for other telling incidents. He temporarily agrees to employ two Jewish refugees at his estate, and it is made clear to the viewer that he understands the dangers they faced in Germany and that his home is serving as a sanctuary. However, after reading the work of Houston Stewart Chamberlain, Lord Darlington orders that two German, Jewish maids should be discharged, as he considers their employment inappropriate for his German guests. Mr. Stevens carries out the order without reflection, while Miss Kenton threatens to resign in protest, but fails to follow through out of self-admitted weakness.35 Thus, Darlington knew of the Nazi policies in Germany, understood the potential plight of the maids, but fired them anyway in service of behavior “appropriate” for his German guests.

Darlington’s elevation of manners above duty reappears as he cannot even tell his godson (Hugh Grant), whose father has died and who is soon to be married, about the birds and the bees. He asks Mr. Stevens, his butler, to do it for him. Darlington seems unwilling to confront the issue of sexuality as it offends his Victorian manners and sensibilities. Thus, manners, while they can be seen as the outward display of inner character, here get in the way of the more difficult, unmannerly, and inappropriate conduct commanded in the face of negotiation with the Germans, the employment of the Jewish maids, and the acceptance of surrogate fatherly duties.

Mr. Stevens’s motivations are more opaque to the audience. He is so univocally driven to serve and fulfill his duty to Lord Darlington, that he almost fails to portray any moral subjectivity.36 But as the head butler, his service is also for the aesthetic ideals of orderliness and cleanliness. The prospect of a dustpan being left on the landing frightens him, such that he rushes to retrieve it before his employer notices his shortcoming. Mr. Stevens’s single-minded focus is best displayed when his own father, also an employee, is dying. Stevens attends to the dinner of the foreign delegates without pain or pause, while his own father lies on his death bed. His relationship with Miss Kenton, central to the development of his character, reveals his coldness, emotional repression, and narrowly driven service toward aesthetic ends. Miss Kenton first extends kindness to Mr. Stevens by putting flowers in his office, but he asks that they be removed so as not to distract him. She falls in love with Mr. Stevens and ends up in tears when she tries to break through his emotional wall and communicate her love to him. But he ignores her and asks to be excused to attend to his duties. Before her eventual departure and engagement to another man, she insults Stevens out of manifest distress that he has never expressed any emotional interest in her, but he still remains unmoved. After his reunion with her in the 1950s, Stevens departs for Darlington Hall in a deluge of rain. Kenton cries, but Stevens, still fails to demonstrate any feeling and only raises his hat out of politeness. While Stevens’s class-based subordination could explain his failure to fulfill his duty to his father, his coldness to Miss Kenton illustrates that he was a cold rationalist in service of aesthetics — thinly defined aesthetics.

Reflecting on Mr. Stevens’s relationship to Miss Kenton reveals two sides of the problem at the intersection of aesthetics and ethics. First, because he serves only the aesthetic ideals of order, beauty, and cleanliness, he does a disservice to the human and intersubjective dimensions of moral experience. He is polite but inattentive and stoic in the face of obvious human suffering, from the firing of the Jewish maids, to the death of his father, to the jilted and regretful Miss Kenton. Does this pose a problem for the continuity between aesthetics and ethics? Stevens serves beauty at the cost of moral duty but also interpersonal sympathy. Since an emotional angle of vision is the necessary condition for attending to moral circumstances, his aesthetic orientation is too narrow. While he has an aesthetic ideal as his motive, he has a rational methodology to achieve it. He acts in each situation as if subsuming his particular action under the universal conceptual criteria of serving beauty and order. He does not allow his actions to flow from his feelings as Whitehead would prescribe. His contribution to others is his spirit, but this is a cold, deliberate, and rational spirit. Thus, with Mr. Stevens as a test case, a conception of aesthetic experience needs to be broad enough to include emotional comportment. Failing to do so through operating in service of a narrow ideal of beauty reveals an impoverished sense of aesthetics which results in immorality.

American Congressman, Mr. Lewis (Christopher Reeve) of The Remains of the Dayserves as a pivot to the American problem at the intersection of aesthetics and ethics discussed at length below. Laughed at as nouveau riche by the British delegates, Lewis attends the conference with the intent of resisting the policy of appeasement. Because he fails to recruit the French delegate, Dupont d’Ivry (Michael Lonsdale), to his side (D’Ivry is busy attending to his sore feet), Mr. Lewis resorts to making an impolite toast at the black tie dinner. He argues in favor of the Realpolitik of professionals, rather than that of “honorable amateurs,” which is his epithet for the noblemen in his company and the Lord who is his host. In his toast “to the professionals” he embodies the moral high ground against the Nazis and the unmannerly and barefooted behavior of a stereotypical American on aristocratic soil; thus he hammers in the wedge that separates manners from morals. Apparently, Americans stand up for right against wrong even at the expense of politeness and pretty conduct. Lewis is a representative character for those skeptical of continuity between aesthetics and ethics. He knows that aesthetic ideals, when reducible to the appreciation of good taste and mannerly behavior, can dull moral distinctions. Yet he fails to unify the precariousness of his situation in a manner which Whitehead or Dewey describe.

The American Problem at the Intersection: Taking Sides

Taking Sides tells the story of Dr. Wilhelm Furtwängler, (Stellan Skarsgård), one of the most respected German conductors of the 20th century, who chose to remain in Germany during the Nazi regime. After Germany’s defeat, he fell victim to a ruthless investigation by the Allies. The major in charge of the investigation is a stereotypically uncultured American, Major Steven Arnold (Harvey Keitel), who works in the insurance business. Arnold tries to uncover how complicit Furtwängler was. Furtwängler was appointed to the Privy Council, he was Hitler’s favorite conductor, and Goebbels and Goering honored him. However, he never joined the Nazi party, he helped numerous Jews escape, and several witnesses testify that he tried to protect Jewish musicians under his direction.

The audience is left to judge Furtwängler morally. On the one hand, Arnold has the moral high ground. The Nazis perpetrated the Holocaust, and the Allied victory ended it. Justice awaits the guilty. But Major Arnold is no Congressman Lewis, who has the outward appearance of a British Peer but falls short of their mannerly conduct only by degree. Arnold is a bullying interrogator, somewhere between the caricature of an ugly American and a down-to-earth pragmatist who thinks musical genius is no excuse for collusion with Nazism, and he is willing to employ an overbearing rudeness to expose this. For Arnold, the question is all about strength of will, and he deems Furtwängler weak. However, Arnold seems to misunderstand most of Furtwängler’s replies to his questions, and at times, his interrogation seems like self-righteous taunting and badgering. The viewer is left wondering whether the distressed conductor or the clinched-fist interrogator is acting more like a Nazi.

In one telling exchange, Furtwängler claims that art has mystical powers, which nurture man’s spiritual needs. He confesses to being extremely naïve. While having maintained the absolute separation of art and politics, he devoted his life to music because he thought through music he could do something practical: to maintain liberty, humanity, and justice. Arnold replies with sarcastic disdain, “Gee, that’s a thing of beauty. […] But you used the word “naïve.” Are you saying you were wrong in maintaining the separation of art and politics?”37 Furtwängler replies that he believed art and politics should be separated, but that they were not kept separate by the Nazis, and he learned this at his own cost. Furtwängler is in an obvious bind here. He cannot hold the following propositions together without internal contradiction: (1) Art has mystical power which nurture’s man’s spiritual needs; (2) Art and politics should be kept separate; (3) Art can maintain liberty, justice and humanity; (4) Art was not kept separate from politics during Nazi rule in Germany, and this was a bad thing. If art nurtures man’s spiritual needs, but art must be kept separate from politics, are man’s spiritual needs distinct from questions of community and well-functioning societies? Put otherwise, can music perform its practical function of maintaining justice, while being separate from politics? It would not seem so.

In what follows this interrogation, Arnold accuses Furtwängler of weakness, of selling out to the Nazis for ordinary petty reasons of fear, jealousy of other conductors, and selfishness. Arnold’s two subordinates are offended by his demeanor and his denigration of a national artistic genius and hero. His assistant eventually refuses to participate. She claims that Arnold is embodying the demeanor of the S.S., which she witnessed firsthand. But Arnold shows her a film of corpses being bulldozed into mass graves, and he tells her that Furtwängler’s friends did this, and by virtue of the fact that Furtwängler actually helped some Jews escape, he knew what they were doing.

The moment of supposed revelation for the viewers of the film comes by way of archival footage, in which Furtwängler is shown shaking hands with Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels after a concert. Furtwängler’s face reveals the complexity of emotions at work — placidness, fear, and contempt. Furtwängler wipes his hand on his leg, revealing his disdain for his patron, but remains reserved and inoffensive. At once the viewer feels he is redeemed, because his true feelings for Goebbels and the Nazi project are revealed, but Furtwängler’s weakness is evident, as Arnold would have pointed out. Ultimately Furtwängler served the harmonious sensibility of artistic creation. Indeed, throughout the film the German admiration of him is severe, especially when contrasted to Arnold’s unimpressed frankness with him. The German temperament and faithfulness to aesthetic appreciation is manifest in a scene where the German audience stands in the rain, listening to Furtwängler conduct a symphony. To leave would offend, and service to the aesthetic ideals cannot give way to pragmatic considerations — how “American” that would be! One imagines Arnold thinking “what insensible dolt stands in the rain to listen to music?” Perhaps Congressman Lewis’s willingness to offend at the black tie dinner can be seen as a middle ground between Arnold’s bullying and Furtwängler’s and Darlington’s inverted values. However, this might only translate conduct into class, hiding the one true moral question beneath another layer of social convention. Arnold would insist that knowing where your salad fork belongs may not prevent you from colluding with murderers.

The Continuity between Ethics and Aesthetics

For both Whitehead and Dewey there are no universal moral situations. Our occasions of experience are always contextual and specific, never occurring in vacuous actuality. But this calls for a more general approach to descriptive ethics, not a more particularized prescription of universal moral laws. Both philosophers begin with a description of the general traits of experience and each uses highly aesthetic language. Each treats imagination and vision, not rationality, as operative in navigating morally problematic situations. Whitehead, by making feeling a metaphysical category, gives emotion a primary role; Dewey, in collapsing the gap between scientific, practical, and moral inquiries, gives imaginative intelligence primacy.

Neither of our two films presents the ideal character, with an emotional comportment and an intensity of experience able to serve as the causally efficacious and morally demanding superject in its environment. Nor do they offer a character of superior imaginative intelligence who finds and applies the elements of her problematic situation as means toward the valuable integration of meaning. This is not a surprise. England appeased the Nazis; the Holocaust occurred and so did the very limited prosecution of the guilty by the Allies afterwards. Furthermore, ugly, but welcomed, Americans plodded onto European soil either on the model of Major Arnold, at worst, or on that of Congressman Lewis at best. (He eventually buys Darlington Hall and retains Mr. Stevens as his butler, but he installs a ping-pong table there, of all aesthetic affronts). Does the “American” problem recur in summer retreats to European museums and cafes? Americans plod, loud and entitled, over the artistic feats of the Continent, and their European hosts translate aesthetic missteps into moral offense.

Where did each character fall short, and what did their shortcomings reveal about the intersection of aesthetics and ethics? Lord Darlington employed his servants to erect a mannerly and orderly veneer between him and that which is ugly. However, he can be viewed as a tragic figure because his mild manners and sensitivity to common cultural (and aesthetic in the narrow sense) values with the Germans were used against him. He ended in disgrace as the news of his involvement in the appeasement was publicized by the press. But his heightened sense of manners disabled him from confronting the soil of moral problems as he did not want to get dirty — (that’s what the servants are for). The head butler, Stevens, was not the emotionally comported or spontaneously active character tacitly advocated for by Whiteheadian ethics, but the coldly rational and deliberative agent serving a narrow aesthetic end. Miss Kenton and Furtwängler demonstrated a weakness of will in the face of wrong-doing, and for that they are condemned, not by an aesthetic measure, but by a pragmatic one. Their beliefs were their propensities to act, and their inability to act revealed a weak belief in their moral ideals.38 But the American characters are not morally pure. As the victors, the

tools they had at their disposal to resolve their situations were ready at hand, and they too were constituted by their prehensions of their environment. Denigrating an artistic genius does not show the service of a moral ideal, but only the privileged position of Major Arnold of judging Furtwängler’s weakness from outside his context.

These films do illustrate the tension at work at the intersection of aesthetics and ethics. While both films depict the limitations and failures of the tendency to “aestheticize” morality, they do not prove the need to import a falsely universal moral ideal antecedent to the experience of a particular problematic situation in order to judge right from wrong. Insofar as the tools needed to make these judgments are had in experience, they have been, accurately described by figures like Whitehead and Dewey, in aesthetic language. The Reductio ad Hitlerum only succeeds if the meaning of aesthetics is deflated and reduced to something much narrower than either Whitehead or Dewey intended, such as reflection on artistic creation. The broad use of aesthetics advocated here does not fail to draw moral distinctions in the face of Nazi atrocities while blindly serving the ideal of artistic beauty or mere manners. Rather, as including imagination and emotion, an aesthetic orientation to ethics encompasses the problems posed by the characters’ shortcomings, even if their moral shortcomings run parallel to their heightened aesthetic and misguided sensibilities.


  1. Hans Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method, (London: Continuum, 2006), 31. Nöel Carroll makes the further claim that because of Kant’s aesthetic theory and its interpretation, twentieth century philosophers have neglected the ethical criticism of art. (Noël Carroll, “Art and Ethical Criticism: An Overview of Recent Directions of Research,” Ethics, Vol. 110, No. 2 (January 2000), pp 350). ↩︎
  2. Thomas Alexander, “John Dewey and the Moral Imagination: Beyond Putnam and Rorty toward a Postmodern Ethics,” Transactions of the Charles Sanders Peirce Society, Vol. XXIX, No. 3, (Summer 1993), 373. ↩︎
  3. For a complex examination of this problematic, see George Kateb, “Aestheticism and Morality: Their Cooperation and Hostility,” Political Theory, Vol. 28, No. 1 (Feb., 2000), pp. 5-37. ↩︎
  4. See Noël Carroll, “Art and Ethical Criticism: An Overview of Recent Directions of Research,” Ethics, Vol. 110, No. 2 (January 2000), pp. 350-387. Carroll highlights the problematic relationship between ethics and art criticism by examining the immorality and aesthetic value of The Triumph of the Will, among other artifacts. ↩︎
  5. Boaz Neumann, “The National Socialist Politics of Life,” New German Critique, No. 85, Special Issue on Intellectuals (Winter, 2002), p 120. ↩︎
  6. Paul Betts, “The New Fascination with Fascism: The Case of Nazi Modernism,” Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 37, No. 4 (Oct., 2002), 546. ↩︎
  7. Betts, “The New Fascination with Fascism,” 547. ↩︎
  8. Betts, “The New Fascination with Fascism,” 547. ↩︎
  9. Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality, (London: The Free Press, 1978), 18. ↩︎
  10. Whitehead, Process and Reality, 18, 22. ↩︎
  11. Whitehead, Process and Reality, 19. ↩︎
  12. Harold B. Dunkel, “Creativity and Education,” Educational Theory, Volume XI, Number 4, (1961), 209. ↩︎
  13. Whitehead, Process and Reality, 29. ↩︎
  14. John B. Cobb, “Whitehead’s Theory of Value,” religion-online.org Accessed 2/27/2015. ↩︎
  15. Cobb, “Whitehead’s Theory of Value.” ↩︎
  16. Whitehead, Process and Reality, 212. ↩︎
  17. Cobb, “Whitehead’s Theory of Value.” ↩︎
  18. Cobb, “Whitehead’s Theory of Value.” ↩︎
  19. Process and Reality, 222. ↩︎
  20. Cobb, “Whitehead’s Theory of Value.” ↩︎
  21. Cobb, “Whitehead’s Theory of Value.” ↩︎
  22. Cobb, “Whitehead’s Theory of Value.” ↩︎
  23. Dewey, Later Works Vol. 1, Ed. Boydston, (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1967-1990) 42-45. ↩︎
  24. Dewey, Logic The Theory of InquiryLW 12: 110. ↩︎
  25. Dewey, LW 12: 121. ↩︎
  26. James Gouinlock, John Dewey’s Philosophy of Value, (New York: Humanities Press, 1972), 132. ↩︎
  27. Dewey, LW 10: 143. ↩︎
  28. Dewey, LW 1: 9. ↩︎
  29. Gouinlock, John Dewey’s Philosophy of Value, 150. ↩︎
  30. Gouinlock, John Dewey’s Philosophy of Value, 151. ↩︎
  31. Gouinlock, John Dewey’s Philosophy of Value, 152. ↩︎
  32. Alexander, “John Dewey and the Moral Imagination,” 384. ↩︎
  33. Richard Posner*, Law, Pragmatism, and Democracy*, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2003), p. 45. Posner claims that pragmatism, via Darwinism, has nurtured philosophies including Nazism. ↩︎
  34. See, for example, Meera Tamaya, “Ishiguro’s Remains of the Day: The Empire Strikes Back,” Modern Language Studies, Vol. 22, No. 2 (spring, 1992), pp. 45-56. Tanaya focuses on the relationship between Darlington and Stevens as one of colonizer and colonized, subject and object. ↩︎
  35. See Geoffrey G. Field, Evangelist of Race: The Germanic Vision of Houston Stewart Chamberlain, (New York: Columbia University Press, 1981). ↩︎
  36. See McCombe, “The End of (Anthony) Eden: Ishiguro’s “The Remains of the Day” and Midcentury Anglo-American Tensions,” 78. ↩︎
  37. See Page R. Laws, “Taking Sides by Ronald Harwood; India Ink by Tom Stoppard,” (review), Theatre Journal, Vol. 48, No. 1 (Mar., 1996), pp. 107-108. Laws makes note of the fact that the Nazis used art in the service of politics. ↩︎
  38. Charles Sanders Peirce, Collected Papers (1958-1966), Vol. 5, Charles Hartshorne and Paul Weiss, eds., (Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press), 400. ↩︎

References: 

Alexander, Thomas. “John Dewey and the Moral Imagination: Beyond Putnam and Rorty toward a Postmodern Ethics.” Transactions of the Charles Sanders Peirce Society. Vol. XXIX. No. 3. (Summer 1993).

Betts, Paul. “The New Fascination with Fascism: The Case of Nazi Modernism.” Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 37. No. 4. (Oct., 2002).

Carroll, Noël. “Art and Ethical Criticism: An Overview of Recent Directions of Research.” Ethics. Vol. 110, No. 2 (January 2000), pp. 350-387.

Cobb, John B. Jr. “Whitehead’s Theory of Value.” www.religion-online.org.

Dewey, John. Later Works Vol. 1, Ed. Boydston, Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1967-1990.

Dewey, John. Later Works Vol. 10. Ed. Boydston, Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1967-1990.

Dewey, John. Later Works Vol. 12. Ed. Boydston. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1967-1990.

Dunkel, Harold B. “Creativity and Education,” Educational Theory. Vol. XI. No. 4. (1961).

Field, Geoffrey G. Evangelist of Race: The Germanic Vision of Houston Stewart Chamberlain. New York: Columbia University Press, 1981.

Gadamer, Hans Georg. Truth and Method. London: Continuum, 2006.

Gouinlock, James. John Dewey’s Philosophy of Value. New York: Humanities Press, 1972.

Ivory, James. The Remains of the Day. Merchant Ivory Film, 1993.

Kateb, George. “Aestheticism and Morality: Their Cooperation and Hostility.” Political Theory. Vol. 28. No. 1 (Feb., 2000), pp. 5-37.

Neumann, Boaz. “The National Socialist Politics of Life.” New German Critique. No. 85. Special Issue on Intellectuals (Winter, 2002), pp. 107-130.

Peirce, Charles Sanders, (1958-1966) Collected papers. Vols. 1- 6, Charles Hartshorne and Paul Weiss, eds., (Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press).

Posner, Richard. Law, Pragmatism, and Democracy, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2003.

Szabó, István. Taking Sides. Paladin Production S.A., 2001.

Whitehead, Alfred North. Process and Reality. London: The Free Press, 1978.About the Author: 

Seth Vannatta earned his PhD in philosophy at Southern Illinois University Carbondale and is currently an Associate Professor in the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies at Morgan State University, where he won the university award for research and scholarship in 2012. He studies the history of philosophy and American philosophy and is interested in philosophy’s relationship to other dimensions of culture including law, politics, education, and sport. He is the author of Conservationsim and Pragmatism in Law, Politics, and Ethics(Palgrave Macmillan, 2014) and editor and contributor to Chuck Klosterman and Philosophy: The Real and the Cereal (Open Court, 2012). He has published articles in The Pluralist, Contemporary Pragmatism, The European Journal of Pragmatism and American Philosophy, Education and Culture, and others.

Notes on Ecological Aesthetics and Ethics

By David George Haskell

A sense of beauty is a rigorous, perhaps even objective, foundation for environmental ethics. Our human aesthetic judgment integrates many strands of experience: intellect, emotion, bodily senses, and all we know from our interactions with others, both human and non-human others. From this integration, we understand the good.

Of course, an aesthetic sense is subject to the whims of desire, passing fads, and superficial impressions. So a well-grounded ethic depends for its rigor on a mature sense of aesthetics. By “mature,” I mean a sense of aesthetics that emerges from many years of lived relationship with a place and its community of life, both human and non-human. Such experience allows us to “unself” our judgment into the wider experience of the community. Our aesthetic and then our ethic will thus emerge not just from the limited confines of our own self, but from the knowledge that lives within the networks from which communities are made.

Once we—collectively—have an integrated sense of aesthetics, we can begin to discern what is beautiful and what is broken about a place, and, from there, I believe we can begin to form an objective—or near-objective—foundation for ethical discernment. Answers emerge from the community of life itself, filtered through human experience and consciousness.

What do I mean by that? Years of experience in a particular place will open us to the lives of other people and other species in that place, so our sense of aesthetics will incorporate their realities. Once we have that, we have a ground for moving forward and making ethical decisions that are actually deeply rooted in the physical, biological realities of a place, rather than coming only from abstractions of a seminar room or dogmas in a philosophy born in another ecosystem.

Aesthetics is often presented as something that’s very subjective, divorced from the reality of the world. In fact, it’s the exact opposite. A sense of ecologic aesthetics comes from a very gritty, sensually rich experience that has its tendrils in the realities of a place.

None of this can answer the ethical nihilist who poses the question, “So, what? Ethics are vaporous illusions carved into the human nervous system by evolution.” But if some ground for ethics does exist in this universe, then a sense of aesthetics can, I think, help us find this ground by a process that fully acknowledges and embraces our existence as evolved members of ecological communities. This is a fully biological foundation for ethics.

On a practical level, if we try to answer questions about how to live in particular places without first listening to the realities and particularities of the place itself, our answers are going to be unmoored and will have terrible consequences. Understanding how to live ethically in a place is an extraordinarily complicated, important, and difficult challenge. Moving forward with answers that are not based on deep engagement with a place and its inhabitants is a recipe for disaster. So action in the world demands, first, a practice of listening.

Religious and philosophical traditions have known this for many millennia: contemplation and action go together, just as the inhale and the exhale go together. Monastic communities are deeply contemplative, but also have engaged in action in the world—whether that action is caring for other people in hospitals, or agricultural action, or caring for the sick. This history evinces the truth that we need open, contemplative spaces within our lives, especially lives of action. I think there’s a hunger for that kind of open space. Without it, we feel a desperation and a feeling that we’re up against the wall without a good way forward. Contemplative practices create spaces for new ideas, new connections to emerge. That sounds like a rather goal-oriented way of putting it, but I do think that one of the fruits of contemplation is an increased ability to come up with new ideas or to see old ideas in a new light.

In the environmental community, there are some instances of people making decisions about the fate of ecosystems when the decision-makers have never experienced the ecosystem at stake. When NGOs, governments, or businesses have decision-making structures that are divorced from the lived experience of a place, then the outcomes will most likely not be good for that place or the people in them. We need to bring lived experience of ecosystems back into the decision-making process.

Call: Aesthetics and Ethics in the Digital Age – British Society of Aesthetics Conference

Published: AUGUST 20, 2020

Call for Abstracts

British Society of Aesthetics: Aesthetics and Ethics in the Digital Age
27th and 28th May 2021
Cambridge, UK
https://fass.open.ac.uk/research/conferences/AEDA

Submission deadline: 31st December 2020

Submissions are invited for the upcoming conference British Society of Aesthetics: Aesthetics and Ethics in the Digital Age. The conference will take place on 27th and 28th May 2021 in Cambridge, UK.

The aim of this conference is to explore some developments in recent practice that raise new and interesting questions for the philosophy of art. Artists, working independently in different parts of the world, are creating new forms of technological interfaces and experimenting with the biological, the nano and the digital. At the heart of all their works is a deep ethos of balancing the aesthetic and the ethical in how we relate with others and our environment, whether in the same physical space or as distributed bodies. The spheres of the arts, sciences, and (in particular) technology overlap both to explore and to attempt to change the way in which we live in the world. These artistic practices raise questions about the interaction between aesthetics and ethics that go beyond those familiar to us in discussions over the past decade or so.

Abstracts of up to 1000 words should be submitted as an email attachment to Satinder Gill (spg12@cam.ac.uk) and Derek Matravers (derek.matravers@open.ac.uk). Please include the talk title, author’s name, affiliation and contact details in the body of email; and please write “BSA Conference Submission” in the subject line.  Abstracts should outline a talk lasting 25 minutes, on a topic related to the topic of the conference. The deadline for submissions is the end of 31st December 2020.

There will be no registration fee for the conference. UK-based contributing speakers will be encouraged to apply for the BSA Travel Stipend to cover travel and accommodation costs. The conference will adhere to BPA/SWIP Good Practice Scheme.

The conference website is https://fass.open.ac.uk/research/conferences/AEDA. For more information, please email Satinder Gill or Derek Matravers (emails above).

This conference is generously supported by the British Society of Aesthetics.

https://materialworldblog.com/2015/03/aesthetics-and-ethics-an-enquiry-into-their-relationship/

The relationship between aesthetics and ethics has long been the topic of scholarly debates, from Kant’s (1928[1790]) insistence that the experience of beauty involved disinterested contemplation and, subsequently, the separation of aesthetics from ethics, or Wittgenstein’s (1961[1889]) enigmatic proposition that ‘ethics and aesthetics are one’, to the numerous enquiries into the ethical aspects of art and art criticism or the aesthetic aspects of moral life and moral evaluation (e.g. Bourdieu 1984, Foucault 1985, 1986, Eco 1986, Eagleton 1990, Guattari 1995, Korsmeyer 1998, Levinson 2001, Rancière 2006, Osborne and Tanner 2007).
How has anthropology related to these debates? Thompson (2006[1973)], Bateson (2006[1973)], or Boone (1986), for example, in the tradition of a holistic anthropology, have analysed local concepts of beauty and illustrated the ways in which these concepts articulated with religious and moral values. Gell (1998), to give another example, through his notion of the artwork as an index, which enables the observer to make causal inferences about the artist’s intentions, has theoretically paved the way for inquiries into the morality of intentions. Furthermore, how can anthropology contribute to these debates, especially in light of its increasing interest in ethics (e.g. Lambek 2010, Faubion 2011, Robbins 2013, Keane 2013, 1014, Fassin and Lézé 2014, Laidlaw 2014)?

Participants have been invited to address the relationship between aesthetics and ethics in anthropology and to consider the following questions:
i) do the definitions of aesthetics and ethics currently in use in anthropology help or hinder us in our reflections on their relationship?
ii) when are the questions of aesthetics and ethics similar?
iii) what kind of theoretical framework is appropriate for reflecting on this relationship? (e.g. value theory; then the questions might be: how does aesthetic value relate to the notion of value generally? how does ethical value relate to the notion of value generally? are these types of value incompatible?)
iv) what kind of ethnographic topic is appropriate for reflecting on this relationship? (only those where there is an explicit expectation that aesthetic principles are guided by ethical considerations, such as Qur’anic art and Islamic fashion?)
v) should a third term, that is, politics, be also taken into consideration in order to better understand the relationship between aesthetics and ethics?

https://philpapers.org/browse/aesthetics-and-ethics

About this topic 

SummaryBroadly construed, Aesthetics and Ethics concerns the relationship between art and morality. Here we ask: Can artworks provide moral knowledge? Can artworks corrupt and instruct morally?  More narrowly construed, the category concerns the relationship between aesthetic and moral value. The chief question is this: Do moral flaws with works of art constitute aesthetics flaws? In addition, we can ask if aesthetic value is morally significant. This last issue has important implications for environmental ethics.
Key worksThe most important collection on the topic is Levinson 1998. The majority of the work on the topic is in essay form, but there are a few influential books. Gaut 2007 is an important, recent monograph. 
IntroductionsAlthough a bit out of date, Carroll 2000 provides an excellent overview of the area.  Gaut 2001 is also an excellent introduction.

References

Art and Ethical Criticism: An Overview of Recent Directions of Research.

Noël Carroll – 2000 – Ethics 110 (2):350-387.

Art and Ethics.

Berys Gaut – 2001 – In Berys Nigel Gaut & Dominic Lopes (eds.), 

The Routledge Companion to Aesthetics. Routledge. pp. 341–352.

Art, Emotion and Ethics.

Berys Gaut – 2007 – Oxford University Press.

Aesthetics and Ethics: Essays at the Intersection.

Jerrold Levinson (ed.) – 1998 – Cambridge University Press.

AESTHETICS & ETHICS: OTHERNESS AND MORAL IMAGINATION FROM ARISTOTLE TO LEVINAS AND FROM UNCLE TOM’S CABIN TO HOUSE MADE OF DAWN

In recent years, American Studies have taken a turn toward the political. However, although poststructuralism and deconstruction have undermined numerous of the moral-philosophical dogmas of the Western metaphysical tradition, many of the political claims that the revisionist turn in American Studies has voiced still rest, if tacitly, on these moral and ethical assumptions. As the latter often collide with the theoretical axioms that inform these revisionist works, some resort to what one could call the “pathos of marginality” and rather vague concepts of “otherness.” Moreover, these political-ideological readings often completely blot out aesthetic aspects, as these are suspected to be carriers of implicit and hegemonic strategies of representation.

In the first part, this study analyzes what role “otherness” plays in the most influential moral-philosophical approaches to date – from Aristotle and the Neo-Aristotelians (Alasdair MacIntyre, Martha Nussbaum) via Kantianism and its deconstructors (Jean-François Lyotard, J. Hillis Miller) to the works of Paul Ricoeur and Emmanuel Levinas – and sheds light on its highly problematic status in Western notions of justice. Moreover, on the background of these analyses it examines the role that aesthetics plays not only for, but within these approaches, with a special focus on what task literature is accorded to dramatize the clash of sameness and otherness.

Starting from a revised notion of the sublime, the second part “applies” the different approaches to four American novels: Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Herman Melville’s Billy Budd, Sailor, Richard Wright’s Native Son, and N. Scott Momaday’s House Made of Dawn, and examines how far the moral-philosophical systems carry to elucidate these texts. What becomes clear is that none of these works can be captured in their complexity by either one moral philosophy or one political agenda, in that every literary “exemplification” of such theory inevitably falls prey to the treacherous dynamics of the example – a dynamics that inhabits literature and haunts ethics, and that defies literature’s instrumentalization by either ethics or ideologies.

Keywords: American Studies, Aesthetics, Ethics, the Sublime, the Other, Otherness, Immanuel Kant, Jean-François Lyotard, J. Hillis Miller, Martha Nussbaum, Alasdair MacIntyre, Paul Ricoeur, Emmanuel Levinas, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Herman Melville, Billd Budd, Richard Wright, Native Son, N. Scott Momaday, House Made of Dawn, Ecology.

Contents

List of Abbreviations for Reference Works

Introduction

American Studies Today

Enter (And Leave): The Aesthetic

Difficult Neighbors: Ethics and Aesthetics

The Novels

I. The Kantian Legacy of Deconstruction

1. Kant – for Example

2. The Ethics of Reading and the End of History

2.1. Ce dangereux exemple…

2.2. De Man’s Demands

2.3. …close the gap!

2.4. Giving the Li(f)e to Miller’s Lie

3. Toward a Politics of the Sublime: Jean-François Lyotard

3.1. The Idea of the “Idea”

3.2. Lyotard Just Gaming?

3.3. The Sacrificial Sublime

II. The Return of Aristotle: Alasdair MacIntyre and Martha Nussbaum

4. Going Back Home: MacIntyre and the Greek Polis

4.1. The Price of Historicization

4.2. The Polis Rebuilt

4.3. Virtual Ethics and Virtuous Reading

4.4. Ethics, Practice, and the Narrative Unity of a Human Life

5. A Mind too Refined to be Touched by an Idea: Martha Nussbaum’s Aristotelian Liberalism

5.1. Aristotle and the Virtues

5.2. The Tragic Muse as Éducation Sentimentale

5.3. The End of Tragedy and The Limits of Identification

III. Approaching the Other: Emmanuel Levinas and Paul Ricoeur

6. Oneself for the Other: Emmanuel Levinas

6.1. Facing The Other

6.2. Ethics, Politics, and Literature

6.3. The Other Sublime

7. Oneself as Another: Paul Ricoeur

7.1. Toward a Narrative Ethics

7.2. Narration and Alterity

7.3. A Tragic Encounter – Narrating the Other

IV. Toward an Ethics of Literature

8. Harriet Beecher Stowe: Uncle Tom’s Cabin

8.1. How to Turn a Thing Into a Man, or: Categorical Imperative vs. Golden Rule

8.2. Sentimentalism as Aesthetic and Ethical Strategy

8.3. The Economy of Religion and Politics

8.4. Face/Off

9. Herman Melville: Billy Budd, Sailor

9.1. Phronimos Goes To War

9.2. Literature, Responsibility, and Political Philosophy: Hannah Arendt and Paul Ricoeur

9.3. (Ef-)facing the Other – Melville’s Silences, Ethics, and War

9.4. Singular Madnesses, Maddening Singularities: Vere, Billy, and the “Hebrew Prophets”

10. Richard Wright: Native Son

10.1. Polis into Metropolis, or: How to Identify with a Rat

10.2. Whose Narrative Is It, Anyway?

10.3. The Racial Sublime

10.4.  Re(w)ri(gh)ting Native Son, Or: Who’s Afraid of Bigger Thomas?

11. N. Scott Momaday: House Made Of Dawn

11.1.  Polis into Pueblo, or: How to Identify with a Bear

11.2. “Evil Was”: Balance, Control, and the Ethics of Myth

11.3. To Kill or Not to Kill

11.4.  Excursus: Is there an other Other? Toward an Environmental Ethics

Conclusion

References

Index of Names

My Related Posts

Aesthetics and Ethics: At the Intersection

On Aesthetics

On Beauty

Truth, Beauty, and Goodness: Integral Theory of Ken Wilber

Truth, Beauty, and Goodness

The Good, the True, and the Beautiful

On Classical Virtues

Indra’s Net: On Interconnectedness

Levels of Human Psychological Development in Integral Spiral Dynamics

Arts and Moral Philosophy

Human Rights and Human Development

Third and Higher Order Cybernetics

The Social Significance of Drama and Narrative Arts

Key Sources of Reserach

AESTHETICS AND ETHICS: THE STATE OF THE ART

Jeffory Dean

https://aesthetics-online.org/page/DeanState

Aesthetics and ethics

Tanner, Michael

https://www.rep.routledge.com/articles/thematic/aesthetics-and-ethics/v-1

Aesthetics and Ethics: Essays at the Intersection

https://www.cambridge.org/core/books/aesthetics-and-ethics/44B8E5696692AEEEF09A034CFDE57B8C

Problems at the Intersection of Aesthetics and Ethics

Seth Vannatta (Morgan State University)

https://responsejournal.net/issue/2016-08/article/problems-intersection-aesthetics-and-ethics

‘ETHICS AND AESTHETICS ARE ONE’

Diané Collinson

The British Journal of Aesthetics, Volume 25, Issue 3, SUMMER 1985, Pages 266–272, https://doi.org/10.1093/bjaesthetics/25.3.266Published: 01 March 1985

Aesthetics and Ethics in Gadamer, Levinas, and Romanticism: Problems of Phronesis and Techne

David P. Haney

PMLA Vol. 114, No. 1, Special Topic: Ethics and Literary Study (Jan., 1999), pp. 32-45 (14 pages) Published By: Modern Language Association 

The Marriage of Aesthetics and Ethics

Series: Critical Studies in German Idealism, Volume: 15

Editor: Stéphane Symons

https://brill.com/view/title/31979

Ethics as Aesthetics: Foucault’S Critique of Moralization of Ethics

October 2019

Project: Ethics as Aesthetics: Foucault’s Critique of Moralization of Ethics

Erwin Arellano Mallo

University of Southern Mindanao

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/336242982_Ethics_as_Aesthetics_Foucault%27S_Critique_of_Moralization_of_Ethics

“One and the Same? Ethics, Aesthetics, and Truth.” 

Eaglestone, Robert.

Poetics Today 25, no. 4 (2004): 595-608. muse.jhu.edu/article/177238.

Notes on Ecological Aesthetics and Ethics

By David George Haskell

Aesthetics & Ethics: Otherness and Moral Imagination from Aristotle to Levinas and from Uncle Tom’s Cabin to House Made of Dawn

Thomas Claviez

Aesthetics & Ethics: Otherness and Moral Imagination from Aristotle to Levinas and from Uncle Tom’s Cabin to House Made of Dawn

(Heidelberg: Winter, 2008) 

http://www.claviez.de/?page_id=41

Wittgenstein’s Aesthetics

https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/wittgenstein-aesthetics/

Aesthetics and Ethics

Aesthetics and Ethics  

Richard Eldridge

The Oxford Handbook of Aesthetics

Edited by Jerrold Levinson

The Ethics of Aesthetics

Don Ritter Berlin, Germany

“Ethics and Aesthetics are One”: The Case of Zen Aesthetics

Bai, H. (1997).

Canadian Review of Art Education, 24(2), 37-52.

Ethics as Style:
Wittgenstein’s Aesthetic Ethics and Ethical Aesthetics

Kathrin Stengel

Independent Scholar, New York