Gadamer's Repercussions: Reconsidering Philosophical Hermeneutics

By Bruce Krajewski | Go to book overview

Chapter 5
Literature, Law, and Morality
GEORGIA WARNKE

Richard Posner lists several reasons to think that morality and law are enterprises distinct from literature: the fact that the heinous actions of German lawyers and citizens in the 1930s and 1940s coexisted with Germany's status as one of the most cultured nations of the world; the circumstance that one of the well-known abilities of many well-read people is to remain insensitive to the suffering of others; the fact that moral atrocities fill the literary canon without affecting either the aesthetic virtues of the work or its reader's own moral attitudes; and, finally, the distance between the concerns of law and those of literature. 1

For these reasons Posner is skeptical about what he calls the edifying school in legal scholarship, an approach to the relation of law and literature that claims that the study of literature is crucial to the ability of judges to judge responsibly and sensitively. Alexander Nehamas is equally skeptical about the ability of literature to teach people in general to act morally or to live moral lives. In this chapter I want to show the force of both positions. But I also want to turn to Gadamer's hermeneutics to develop suggestions he makes about the relation between literary criticism on the one hand and moral and legal reflection on the other. I shall argue that these suggestions help redirect our attention away from the solitary reader or critic toward the participant in dialogue. Moreover, I shall argue that the form this participation takes serves to strengthen rather than weaken the relation between literature, law, and morality. I shall begin with Martha Nussbaum's claims for the edifying potential of a particular novel, Henry James's The Golden Bowl, which is the focus of problems both Posner and Nehamas pose for attempts to connect literature, law, and morality. 2

The Golden Bowl involves the relations between four people: two rich Americans, Maggie and her widowed father Adam; Maggie's husband, a

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