The Art of Ethics and the Ethics of Art: Between Kant and Wallace Stevens
Hoult, Jason Andrew
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In my dissertation I undertake to examine the relationship between ethics and art (aesthetics) through an analysis of the relationship between the philosophy of Kant and the poetry of Wallace Stevens. I focus, in my analysis, on the concepts of metaphor, as embodied in Stevens poems, and the thing-in-itself, as conceived by Kant in advancing his critique of pure reason. I argue that, unless we come to see that the thing-in-itself is a metaphor for the human condition and that metaphor involves and expresses a representation of things that describes not natural phenomena but what it means to be human, we will continue to flounder in the dualistic oppositions that often plague modern studies of ethics and art: the oppositions, for example, between the truth and its images, the good and the beautiful, the spirit and the flesh, and the concept and the content. It is in overcoming these dualisms that I aim to show that both the philosophy of Kant and the poetry of Stevens are at once ethical and aesthetic. In undertaking to demonstrate, then, the relationship between the philosophy of Kant and the poetry of Stevens, I underscore, throughout my study, the fundamental difference between ancient Greek philosophy and poetry, on the one hand, and biblical concepts and images, on the other. For I argue that it is only when we truly grasp that the philosophy of Kant and the poetry of Stevens are biblical in origin, both ontologically and historically, that we will be in the position to account for the fundamental relationship between ethics and art in modernity. In sum, through an analysis of the works of Kant and Stevens, I undertake to show that, just as our ethical actions must be creative in order for them to be truly ethical, so must our artistic creations engage our most fundamental, ethical values in order for them to be truly creative.