Cavell's 'Moral Perfectionism' or Emerson's 'Moral Sentiment'?

What is properly Emersonian about moral perfectionism? Perhaps the best answer is: not much. Stanley Cavell's signature concept, which claims close kinship to Emerson's ethical philosophy, seems upon careful examination to be rather far removed from it. Once we get past the broad, unproblematic appeals to Emerson's “unattained but attainable self,” and consider the specific content and implications of perfectionism, the differences between the two thinkers become too substantive – and too fraught with serious misunderstandings – to be ignored. It is above all Cavell's complete disregard for the Emersonian “moral sentiment” that jeopardizes his claim to be a continuator of Emerson's legacy in ethical philosophy. I would not deny that Cavell's own work stands as an extraordinary contribution to contemporary ethics. Nor would I dispute his title as the living philosopher who has done more than any other to restore Emerson to his rightful place in the history of American philosophy, as a thinker worthy of the highest consideration. Still less would I discount the boldness and originality of Cavell's readings of Emerson. What I am contesting, rather, is the propriety of attaching the label “Emersonian” to the notion of perfectionism, especially in view of its strong anti-metaphysical bias. The Emerson canon provides ample grounds for rejecting Cavell's claim as largely unsubstantiated and in a number of crucial ways inconsistent with the moral sentiment's firm grounding of ethics in ontology.
Keywords Emerson and Cavell  Emerson's Metaphysics  Emerson's Ethics
Categories (categorize this paper)
 Save to my reading list
Follow the author(s)
My bibliography
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Revision history Request removal from index
Download options
PhilPapers Archive Joseph Urbas, Cavell's 'Moral Perfectionism' or Emerson's 'Moral Sentiment'?
External links
Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library
References found in this work BETA

No references found.

Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

No citations found.

Add more citations

Similar books and articles
Joseph Urbas (2009). True Romance: Emerson's Realism. Southwest Philosophy Review 25 (2):113-147.
Randy L. Friedman (2007). Traditions of Pragmatism and the Myth of the Emersonian Democrat. Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society 43 (1):154-184.
Lawrence Buell (2003). Emerson. Harvard University Press.

Monthly downloads

Added to index


Total downloads

118 ( #18,743 of 1,725,153 )

Recent downloads (6 months)

10 ( #64,836 of 1,725,153 )

How can I increase my downloads?

My notes
Sign in to use this feature

Start a new thread
There  are no threads in this forum
Nothing in this forum yet.