Exactly how radical change in commitments on matters of fundamental concern is possible has been a problem since at least Paul's conversion on the road to Damascus and Augustine's rejection of Pelagianism and defence of divine grace. If an act of will is required to accept the offer of grace, then isn’t something important left to us to do? And if so, can or does reason play any role in such radical change? If so, how? Martin Warner takes on these large questions in The Aesthetics of Argument. One modest way in which he gets his account started is to note, following Susan Haack, that ‘the intuition … that there is such a thing as favourable but not conclusive evidence … is stronger than … [the intuition] that there is such a thing as “inductive implication”’ (p. 277, n.1). That is, we apparently do make up our minds on some issues of fundamental concern, where evidence is inconclusive, but without following any strictly deductive or inductive rules of logic. Yet existentialist decisionism in the manner of Sartre––the thought that we must and do choose which fundamental values to accept, without reasons and issues about truth being in play––is not plausible either. So just how do and ought we to go about addressing matters of fundamental concern? Warner develops his answer to this question by drawing on, among others, the work of John Wisdom on case-by-case reasoning, William Righter on an ‘aesthetic of argument’ (the source of Warner’s title, (p. 2)), and such hermeneutic theorists as Gadamer, Ricoeur, MacIntyre, Taylor, and Bernard Harrison (on learning from literature). Like Nelson Goodman, Warner holds that analogy, metaphor, narrative, imagery, and symbol can frame domains of investigation, thereby helping us, as Aristotle put it in metaphor, ‘to get hold of something fresh’ (p. 36), so that, in Wittgenstein’s words, ‘light dawns gradually over the whole’ (p. 55). Beyond Goodman, however, and in keeping with the earnestness about values that informs the work of Gadamer, Ricoeur, MacIntyre, Taylor, and Harrison, Warner argues that the shifts in seeing and valuing that can result from analogical or comparative reading may be truth-apt. There is none of Goodman’s nominalism or constructivism. As with the workings of grace, there is at least sometimes a mysterious and magical way in which one must both do something––read attentively and with full involvement in the text and issues in play––and let something happen, as the text and its imaginative devices work their transformations on us: ‘Opening oneself to imagistic argument may be the best––in the limiting case the only––way of grasping even approximately “fully” that in which one is invited to believe’ (p. 287). Warner’s central cases in elaborating the potential and the founderings of imagistic and narrative argument are Plato (Phaedrus, Symposium), Augustine (Confessions), Mill (Autobiography), the Gospel of John, and, especially, T. S. Eliot (The Wasteland, Four Quartets), along with significant advertence to the prophet Nathan’s parable of the ‘one ewe lamb’ with which he transforms David’s sensibility. (Here it is unfortunate that Warner does not consider recent works that have focused on learning from literature via our active, imaginative involvement in it. Ted Cohen treats at length both Nathan's parable and the workings of metaphor in enabling us to see things anew (Cohen 2009). Joshua Landy takes up the Symposium and parables, especially from the Gospel of Mark, in developing an account of readerly imaginative involvement in the workings of texts (Landy 2014). Walton (1993), Feagin (1996), Robinson (2007), and Gaut (2009) are significant general studies of the interrelated roles of imagination and emotion in the experience of literature, largely in response to Radford’s work on the paradox of fiction (Radford 1975).) Imagistic and narrative arguments conspicuously lack both standard canons of validity (as in deductive argument) and careful procedures of data collection in controlled situations, supplemented with statistical inference. Imaginary cases are as relevant as actual ones (p. 21). There is always an open question about how apt an image, an analogy, or an imaginative framing of a situation may be. And yet imagistic and narrative argument at least aim ‘to overcome motivated resistances’ (p. 53) and to disrupt ‘our normal ways of conceptualizing and imagining’ (p. 55) in the service of truth-apt transformations of valuations and commitments. Here there are natural questions about whether and how such procedures can count as argument at all or be genuinely disclosive of truths. And it will not do to support and defend such arguments by appeal to inductive evidence collected in normal ways or to canons of deductive validity (as though they were enthymemes), on pain of sacrificing their autonomy and distinctiveness. So how, if at all, can deployments of images and narratives count as arguments? Warner develops his most powerful and original answer to this question, focusing in particular on images, in two long chapters (7 and 8) titled ‘The “Logic” of Imagery I’ and ‘The “Logic” of Imagery II’, respectively. (The broad trajectory of the book is ‘from analogy and narrative to image and symbol’ (p. 274).) Both chapters on imagery treat at length T. S. Eliot’s general remarks about his aims in poetic composition and his poetic practice in The Wasteland and Four Quartets, against the background of a survey of Symbolist and Imagist poetics. Symbolist poetic practice is not the only form of literary composition that invites imaginative and emotional engagement with the aim of seeing things anew; there are also plays, novels, autobiographies, histories, and parables, as well as other forms of poetry. But this practice is strikingly distinctive in its mode of organization. (Significant recent studies of how lyrics in general, and modernist lyrics in particular, lay claim to motivated assent on the parts of readers include Culler (2015), Altieri (2003, 2015), and Eldridge (2008). Warner draws on Altieri (2003) in developing his view.) According to Warner, following Eliot, poets working in the Symbolist style invent images in order to express feelings and moods and in order to establish tone and attitude, in relation to objects of experience. In doing so, they attempt to move toward clarity about the meaning and value of these objects as the images accumulate and as interrelations among them develop. As Warner puts it, citing phrases from Eliot’s essay on Dante, Eliot’s ‘poetry seeks to “digest” his experiences, … the poetic sequence seeking to produce a “total effect”, … pointing to the possibility that “full understanding” … might ultimately lead––for both poet and reader––to “full belief”’ (p. 230). A movement toward clarity and away from perplexity provides ‘a rationale for the “movement” of [the] images’ (p. 203). (Compare Eldridge (2008), pp. 18-22, 69-85, and 109-14.) A general criterion for the success of this kind of poetry is that ‘concept, emotion, and image [and prosody] are internally related’ (p. 204), so that a sense of fullness of attention to the objects of experience defeats a sense of casual or arbitrary development. Such poetry can ‘challenge [its] readers to reinterpret their own “private understandings”’ (p. 236). At its best it can bind readers together in animated and apt commitments, thus overcoming the conditions of fragmented and chaotic public life that Eliot had in mind when he chose the B2 fragment of Heraclitus as the epigraph to Burnt Norton: ‘Although the logos is common to all the many live as though they had a private understanding’ (cited, p. 236). Warner’s own judgment about Four Quartets as a response to The Wasteland is that Eliot succeeds in presenting certain images of the spiritual in the sensual, but that he ultimately fails to address the plights of his culture and to motivate the cultural and political significance of Anglican religious belief satisfactorily. In addressing political and cultural matters, there is a ‘willed contrivance’, a ‘weakness of the imagistic logic’, and an ‘uneasiness of tone’ in the development of the images (pp. 240, 241). The challenge posed to the reader by Four Quartets remains in place along with certain less politically charged epiphanic moments, but the imagistic argument for religious belief as an address to culture founders. Warner finds somewhat similar failures in the autobiographies of Augustine and Mill. Augustine’s account of his conversion draws on, and arguably requires, an Origenist, neo-Platonic understanding of anamnesis that he rejects later in his career. As a result, if his later stance is sound, then the imaginative vision of the Confessions cannot stand. In general, ‘imaginative visions cannot of themselves be probative … and imaginative plausibility of the vision is not a final defence’ (p. 110). Without Origenism, ‘the whole imaginative web [of the Confessions] starts to unravel’ (p. 109). In Mill, ‘the paucity of … emotional cultivation’ that Mill demonstrates undermines both his claims about the importance of emotional education in general and his claims to have achieved it (p. 113). In both texts, there is a ‘complex potential’ for illumination and transformation via imaginative engagement with narrative along with an ‘undercutting’ of that very potential (p. 118). Plato and the Gospel of John come off rather better. Plato’s efforts in the Phaedrus at ‘wooing the fitting reader to philosophy’ (p. 67) via imaginative engagement in the dialogue may work, at least for some readers: ‘The wings of the soul of the appropriate reader … would be capable of being nourished into growth through the dialogue itself’ (p. 70). Likewise, Plato, and the reader, ‘may well regard as reasonably reliable argument [––here the speech of Diotima in the Symposium]––that is tested against a range of varying and credible sensibilities’ as displayed in the other speeches (p. 90). The Gospel of John has the explicit aim, as Ricoeur puts it, ‘of binding confession-testimony to narration testimony’ (p. 147, citing Ricoeur). That is, it weaves together narrative (of Jesus’s increasing understanding and acceptance of his mission), judgment about what is to be done (by, variously, Jesus himself, his accusers, the disciples, and the evangelist writers), signs (miraculous acts), and transformations (entries ‘into liberation’ and ‘rebirth’ (pp. 141, 144), as they occur in Jesus and those who follow him): ‘It is only by taking as an integrated whole the four levels of narrative, judgment, sign, and transformation that we can fully grasp that exemplification of the art of rational persuasion’ (p. 151). The interesting ambiguities of the modal verb ‘can’ in this last clause are central to this book’s promises and disappointments. Plausibly, there is no other way to arrive reasonably at fundamental value stances than through engagement with compelling imaginative narratives of experiences of transformation. Purely demonstrative proofs of the existence of God have not won wide support, and value realisms, however plausible, must themselves be argued for at least in part by tracing adoptions and expressions of value commitments in our lives, rather than only by neutral theorizing about ultimate givens. But are we to accept the stronger claim that Christian transformation in value stance is uniquely available, valuable, and supported by reasons, all on the basis of the testimony of the Gospels? This is much less clear. Warner would, I think, like it to be so, or at least he would favour fundamental transformations away from materialism and utilitarianism, but he sees that he cannot compel his readers to accept this thought, any more than the Gospels themselves can compel their readers to transformation via neutral demonstrative argument. As Paul wrote in his First Letter to the Corinthians, For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. (Corinthians I, 1:21-24, KJV) Given the power of the wisdom of the world, including the achievements of modern science, and given the risks of idolatry and fanaticism, or at least of immoderation, that come with religious commitment, many of us are likely, when encountering this preaching, to feel something like what Wittgenstein said about his own work: ‘I would like to say “This book is written to the glory of God”, but nowadays that would be chicanery, that is, it would not be rightly understood’ (Wittgenstein 1975, p. 7). But then we are scarcely likely to get a productive grip on ourselves and our value stances without engaging seriously with the affordances of imaginative literature, religious and otherwise, which tracks human possibilities. References Altieri Charles 2003, The Particulars of Rapture ( Ithaca: Cornell University Press). Altieri Charles 2015, Reckoning with the Imagination ( Ithaca: Cornell University Press). Cohen Ted 2009, Thinking of Others: On the Talent for Metaphor ( Princeton: Princeton University Press). Culler Jonathan 2015, The Theory of Lyric ( Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press). Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Eldridge Richard 2008, Literature, Life, and Modernity ( New York: Columbia University Press). Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Feagin Susan 1996, Reading with Feeling: The Aesthetics of Appreciation ( Ithaca: Cornell University Press). Gaut Berys 2009, Art, Emotion and Ethics ( Oxford: Oxford University Press). Landy Joshua 2014, How to Do Things with Fictions ( Oxford: Oxford University Press). Radford Colin 1975, ‘How Can We Be Moved by the Fate of Anna Karenina?’, in Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society , Supplementary Volumes 49. Robinson Jenefer 2007, Deeper than Reason ( Oxford: Clarendon Press). Walton Kendall L. 1993, Mimesis as Make-Believe: On the Foundations of the Representational Arts , rev. ed. ( Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press). Wittgenstein Ludwig 1975, Philosophical Remarks, trans. Raymond Hargreaves and Roger White ( Oxford: Basil Blackwell). © Mind Association 2017
Mind – Oxford University Press
Published: Jan 1, 2018
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