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Moral sentiment

Commentary on:
Robert C. Solomon, “In Defense of Sentimentality”

The ice cream-like properties of compassion.

With a “single sarcastic comment” Kant gets himself in trouble with Solomon:

For love out of inclination cannot be commanded; but kindness done from duty—although no inclination impels us, and even although natural and unconquerable disinclination stands in our way—is practical, and not pathological, love, residing in the will and not in the propensions of feeling, in principles of action and not of melting compassion; and it is this practical love alone which can be an object of command. [from the preface of the Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals, H. J. Paton trans., (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1964), p. 67. (Prussian Royal Academy ed. p. 399.)]

The tender sentiment is banished from ethics.

We suspect there is a slip in meaning to modern ears on hearing the word “pathological”; it meant, for Kant, to stem from a natural impulse or emotion, nothing more, nothing less—and as such Kant did not consider it diseased, disordered or in anyway immoral. But if we further assume, as I think many even the sophisticated do, that what is not moral must be immoral we are drawn to the unhappy judgment on love and other sentiments. We seem to forget, as Kant did not, that there is a third category of things amoral or adiaphorous. The law of excluded middle is misapplied in ethics.

(Though one may be able to derive an ethics from Kant’s that is bivalent, Kant’s was not. Weininger, by rigorously combining with the standard moral Kantian premises a principle of relentless self-examination (also implicit in Kant) did in fact produce an ethics that offered no quarter for pathological elements.)

The problem with compassion was that it dissolves as it cools (the opposite of ice cream). Duty might well be ice-like but it keeps irrespective of the sentimental climate. Kant was, of course, trying to correct for the English moral sentimentalists, as Solomon begins to explain:


I suggested that the status of “sentimentality” went into decline about the same time that the sentiments lost their status in moral philosophy, and that the key figure in this philosophical transformation was Immanuel Kant. Perhaps it should also be said that Kant, in his “precritical” period (around 1770) wrote of the sentiment of compassion that it was truly beautiful,—even if it ultimately had no ethical import. But fifteen years later, Kant’s aesthetic appreciation had turned to contemptuous disdain, and with a sneer he dismissed “melting compassion” as irrelevant even to love.

(But again compare the role of such sentiments in the Lectures on Ethics and The Metaphysics of Morals for a less dismissive verdict on their role in morality.) Solomon proceeds to link this disdain for sentiment with the reaction to the rising demand for women’s equality.

However, Kant’s unprecedented attack on sentiment and sentimentalism must be seen, at least in part, as a reaction (perhaps a visceral reaction) not only against the philosophical moral sentiment theorists (whom he at least admired), but against the flood of popular women writers in Europe and America who were turning out thousands of widely read potboilers and romances that did indeed equate virtue and goodness with gushing sentiment….

(Schopenhauer’s mother, Johanna, an enormously successful writer of such novels, for example, who implored her son to forget philosophy…)

We must add that the explicit call for rights by women was still in its prenatal stage in Kant’s time. His reaction was, rather, to a feminine impulse as it inhered in men—in Hume, Shaftsbury, etc.—which had just experienced a period of near ascendancy. Some part of this principle must strike men as just; yet they are never able to shake off the uneasy feeling that sentiment-based moral theories are flawed at least as applied to men (males), if not quite in themselves. For men, who see themselves as the only moral actors, this intuition of error, we have reason to fear, is correct.

But in the purportedly nonpolitical, genderless world of philosophy, sentimentalism was forced into a confrontation with logic and became the fallacy of appealing to emotion instead of argument (now standard in almost every ethics or logic textbook). In ethics, to be accused of “sentimentalism” meant that one had an unhealthy and most unphilosophical preference for heartfelt feeling over hardheaded reason….

“…genderless world of philosophy”? Solomon implies it ought to be but isn’t. We think isn’t and shouldn’t be—or that philosophy, if it has such aspirations, expends too much effort to be what it can never be. What genderless world of philosophy? To think there ever was such is to presume with abandon.

But to run, for a moment, with the thought of a “genderless” philosophical environment: when rationalism (in the broad sense that covers empiricism, etc., too, that is, an untoward faith in logical consistency as a basic criterion) comes in conflict with body-centered radical feminisms its fundamental assumptions are revealed and ridiculed as heterocosmic “holy ghosts” (Mary Daly). Feminism, even where it will entertain logic like a gracious host, in its heart does not feel the same awe in the presence of the laws of identity or excluded middle or contradiction, etc. that men have wanted to foist on everyone as though it was just a matter of explanation and then any human could not help but succumb to the allure of these most basic premises of rational discourse. If “sentimentalism,” once pure description, has become sullied with negative prescription, so has by now “logocentrism” or the idea that the language can be parsed on such mechanical principles and expect universal (sexless) truths to emerge from the process.

Ice cream should melt in the course of being what it is…

Reason and Emotion

After contrasting paintings by Bouguereau and Degas, one perverse in its technical and sentimental perfection, the other arguably a better painting but lacking in tenderness, Solomon writes:

…one of my aims here is to disentangle them [sentimentality and ethical impulses]. Bad art is one thing, sentimentality another, and while bad literature in particular may try to prove its redeeming value by evoking tender feelings, its sentimentality is not the cause of its badness, and sentimentality is not a species of immorality….

Solomon repeats the story told by William James of the “wealthy society matron who weeps at the plight of characters on stage while her waiting servants freeze outside” and also the story of “Rudolf Hess weeping at an opera put on by condemned Jewish prisoners during the Holocaust.”

Such stories do demonstrate that sentimentality divorced from life may reflect a particularly despicable or dangerous pathology, but it is not sentimentality as such that is at fault in these two famous cases, and just the same charge might be leveled against that use of reason (as in “thinking the unthinkable”) that entertained the hypotheses of game theory while deliberating the fate of millions in the calculations of nuclear deterrence. It is not sentimentality (or rationality) that is troublesome but rather its utter inappropriateness in the context in question.

Solomon is quite right about the ultimate moral neutrality of sentiment and reason in isolation. If there is such a thing as human morality, it is surely and necessarily an amalgam of these. Nevertheless, that amalgam derives its power to move us, to the extent it has any, from sentiment and reason. Both Hume and Kant acknowledged this. It is not even really a dispute as to priority. Hume and Kant had important places for both. (Too often, it is forgotten that respect is a feeling—an exceedingly fragile one at that—and that without it there is no such thing as morality for Kant.) What is decisive is the radical difference in the kinds of objects each moral theory takes as ultimately deserving of consideration: whether it is incarnated beings or abstract entities. These choices in turn determine which feelings are favored and the role that reason is to play: feelings of empathy and solidarity or of awe and respect. And whether reason is to serve or be served (yet in serving no less necessary). A true metaphysics of morals must describe this difference. What must be evident to someone unblinkered by topical notions sex equality (and a subsequent moral universalism) is the biological association. The moral actors in all known dramas come in either female or male varieties, only and always. This fact, the fact of experiencing the world as woman or man, together with the radical divergence in values each of the two “natural kinds” brings to bear in its reaction sets the moral scene.

Cynicism and whatever its opposite is


…. It is rather that sentimentality betrays the cynic, for it is the cynic and not the sentimentalist who cannot abide honest emotion.

See this post for comment.

Feeling and Ethics

Sentimentality is variously conceived as… “tender” emotions,… “excessive” emotion,… self-indulgence,… “false” or “fake” emotions…. If the tender emotions (pity, sympathy, fondness, adoration, compassion) are thought to be not only ethically irrelevant 235 but ethically undesirable (in contrast to hard-headed practical reason, for example), then it is not sentimentality that should be called into question but rather the conception of ethics that would dictate such an inhuman response. My central argument, which I have pursued elsewhere as well (1989), is that no conception of ethics can be adequate unless it takes into account such emotions, not as mere “inclinations” but as an essential part of the substance of ethics itself….

Solomon is quite right in this Hume-like reaction but he does not—at least not here and nowhere else that we are aware of—provide an adequate metaphysics behind his claim for the centrality of emotion in ethics. Why should emotions be granted a status on a par with reason in moral theory? (This question, of course, can only be asked from the side of reason; from the side of feeling, from her side, she can only laugh or cry at the thought she needs status of any sort.) We have to turn to work deriving from Otto Weininger to get the final answer to that question…

The third tear

Well bred emotions know when and where to indulge themselves:

Weeping at an opera while Jews are being gassed at one’s command nearby [as Rudolf Hess is reported to have done] is grotesque, but weeping at an opera is not. We cultivate and enjoy as well as suffer emotions, but we do not do so wholly apart from context; at a minimum the context is our own self-consciousness….

A passage from Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being is quoted:

Kitsch causes two tears to flow in quick succession. The first tear says: how nice to see children running on the grass!

The second tear says: How nice to be moved, together with all mankind, by children running on the grass!

It is the second tear that makes kitsch kitsch. [ULB, (Harper & Row, 1984), p. 251.]

On which Solomon comments:

…. Kundera, of course, is concerned with a particular kind of political propaganda, which intentionally eclipses harsh realities with emotion and uses sweet sentiments to preclude political criticism…. 238 [Kundera, in a further quote, casts aspersions on the banality and lack of originality of kitsch.] But why must an honest feeling claim originality, and why, again, are only the tender sentiments (as opposed, for example, to such vulgar negativities as fecal monism [i.e., “Everything is shit.”]) subject to such a test? We can readily share Kundera’s concern for the use of kitsch as a cover for totalitarianism; but then it is not sentimentality that is at fault, and there is nothing intrinsically wrong with our being moved by the children playing in the grass and then by our further being moved by our being moved….

Is that second tear, Solomon goes on to say, not evidence of a Socratic, and therefore laudable, self-awareness?…

But there is a third tear, fast on the tracks of the second, that finds one’s being moved by being moved by children playing in the grass itself “unbearably” heavy with sadness… A third tear is usually hint enough to warn us of an impending regress of lachrymosity,…and now we may be inspired to put a stop to this by becoming angry with ourselves—as it were, enlisting the services of one emotion to counter another…. The point is that it is no analysis effected single-handedly by cool-headed reason at work here. Our emotions are quite jealous of one another. And they will seize every opportunity to prevent one from among them getting or maintaining the upper hand. (Indeed, when this doesn’t happen, we are inclined to call it pathology.) Reason’s role is scarcely more than that of minion, recalling Hume, again, and his allusion to the slavishness of reason in the company of passion.

Unchecked self-consciousness


The most common charge against sentimentality is that it involves false emotion…. So, too, excessive self-consciousness of one’s emotions may well lead to the suspicion that an emotion is overly controlled or “faked,” but as I pointed out (with reference to Kundera), emotional self-consciousness is not itself fraudulent but rather an important philosophical virtue, and a thoroughly righteous emotion (such as indignation) may well be self-conscious without in the least undermining its claims to legitimacy.

On the narrow point Solomon is right, again, but self-consciousness is not a virtue that fits well an Aristotelian mean. Give it an inch and it will take a mile and, indeed, if it is justified in taking that inch it is also in taking the mile—and more—as well. It knows no bounds and cannot know them on pain of having its first step illegitimized. Knowing this of itself, even it may come to distrust itself or at least disqualify itself from relevance. Hence the pall that hangs over any activity that implicates it. It is what makes Hamlet into a profoundly ambiguous moral character. It is the chief paradox of morality (at least in its Kantian male form).

Women and men on sentimentality

Mary Midgley discusses the death of Little Nell in Dickens’ Old Curiosity Shop and offers a criticism of sentimentality. Its “central offence lies in self-deception, in distorting reality to get a pretext for indulging in any feeling.” The figure of Little Nell, Solomon explains,

…. was well-designed to provoke a delicious sense of pity and mastery, and to 241 set up further fantasies where this feeling could continue. One trouble about this apparently harmless pursuit is that it distorts various expectations; it can make people unable to deal with the real world, and particularly with real girls. Another is that it can so absorb them that they cannot react to what is genuinely pitiful in the world around them.

…. But the reply to this objection is, first of all, that all emotions are distorting in the sense intended. Anger looks only at the offense and fails to take account of the good humor of its antagonist, jealousy is aware only of the threat, not of the wit and charms of the rival, love celebrates the virtues and not the vices of the beloved,…. But why call this “distortion” rather than “focus” or “concern”? And what is the alternative—omniscience? Always attending to everything that one knows or remembers about a subject? Reviewing the history of Denmark as well as the literature on step-child relations before one allows oneself to be moved by Hamlet? Never having a nice thought without a nasty one as well?….

…. So, too, we should react to the example of the Jewish prisoners’ opera. It was not Hess’s weeping that is damnable but his evil ability to focus on a single, narrow aspect of a situation that ought to inspire horror and revulsion (not sentimental emotions) in any civilized human being.

What of Col. Paul Warfield Tibbets, Jr. and his crew on the Enola Gay as they flew on August 6th 1945 over Hiroshima? Moved by a love of country, they focused on their duty from a genuine belief in the need to do this. Were they evil in being able to focus on just the conducive aspects of the situation (that they were loyal Americans and soldiers, trusting in the judgment of their leaders, the decision was not theirs to second-guess, etc.) and not the wider drama their actions were a part of? Isn’t the capacity for focus not inculcated by all rigorous training? The stamping out of tender qualms, intransigent sensitivities, and errant thoughts (such as that those are nearly all civilians, indeed, mostly women, children, the sick and elderly down there—the able-bodied enemy busy fighting elsewhere!—all deductions not requiring specialized knowledge or insight…) is par for the course in nearly all military operations…. We will have more to say about Deputy Fuhrer Rudolf Hess shortly, but for now just suppose, in getting teary-eyed at the opera put on by Jews he was going to gas, it really did cross his mind, what a tragedy… Is this picture humanly impossible?*

Solomon in the passages above, reacting to Midgely, suggests the word “focus” instead of “distortion” as a way to better characterized the epistemological effect of doting sentimentality. Then in the next quoted passage he speaks of Hess’s “evil ability to focus [my emphasis] on a single, narrow aspect of a situation.” In more recent times, we often heard of William J. Clinton’s capacity and tendency to “compartmentalize” his moral consciousness. (Not just in his seedy personal life, but, for example, in his reaction, or lack thereof, when it mattered, to the genocide in Rwanda… Of course, there is no end to political examples of compartmentalization. Clinton’s is hardly the worst or the last. Indeed, politics might be characterized as the art of just that.)

I think what is bothering Midgley and I would venture many, especially women, thinkers about what Solomon calls “focus” is that it, at least as manifested in men, so often devolves to some form of excuse for glaring hypocrisy, something especially egregious in a class of beings who have traditionally (and we would add, constitutionally) claimed individual right and responsibility as their moral watchwords often at the expense of obligations to preserve material human relationships and to foster their flourishing. A man is liable to having his vision of what is important distorted by sentimentality where a woman with her constitutional emphasis on relationship—as seen from the point of view of the couple, the family, the community, the species…—can, ironically, more coolly resist. Again, the difference here is between reason in the sense of sensibleness and in the sense of rationality. The latter sets standards that while lovely in the abstract are nowhere realized in fact. Wisdom in a woman consists in large part in seeing this. Men cannot, it appears, ever bring themselves to focus on this fact for it would entail an awful truth about their predicament: that they don’t fully belong here—a discomfort easily gathered from their criminal behavior if not always from their discourse.

So why is the distorting capacity of sentiment peculiarly effective in men? Let’s scrutinize more carefully Solomon’s earlier examples: James’s wealthy matron moved by the plight of characters on stage while seemingly oblivious to her own servants freezing outside and Hess’s tears at an opera put on by Jews whose death he was about to order.

Is it really correct to say the matron was a hypocrite? No, I am going to say. Her reactions were perfectly sensible and one might even say clear-headed. A typical woman knows her priorities. She was not insane and could explain to you with unwavering conviction that the sentiments inspired by the play were ones which any decent person with a concern for fostering or—that is to say (less question-beggingly)—managing her relationships would want to have. The servants, freezing or otherwise, are already firmly ensconced in a relationship. Their present hardship is part and parcel of their role. Should one of them become deathly ill, something not normally written into their script, she may, quite consistently from within her framework of relations, turn a sympathetic glance…or she may not—again, depending on the overall effect on her relational economy.

(Josiah Royce describes, in a lecture on mixed feelings [“Pleasure and Pain; Happiness and Unhappiness”] a young woman who vivaciously enthuses all during a social gathering and yet at the end of the evening takes her leave with the remark, “Oh you cannot believe how all such affairs and doings bore me. I am so weary of them.” Yet Royce refuses to impugn her sincerity both in her enthusiasm and in her boredom. One could easily multiply such examples of “cutting slack,” as it were, in interactions between men and women, which, charming though they may be, are tacit acknowledgements that different rules apply, depending on the gender of the actor.)

Is there nevertheless something wrong with her behavior? Of course! She would be something of a bitch to work for. She lacks whether through birth or nurture or both a sense of compassion, exceeding the minimum necessary to function with in a pre-existing social network… But no conception of hypocrisy applies to her case. For that would entail that she consciously holds, having thought out (or would acknowledge even if she hadn’t), a set of principles to govern her sentiment.

Her feelings whether laudable or despicable do not distort reality. They more or less construct that reality.

Hess was a man of duty and principle, a man who understood orders and followed them. A man, who if you asked him why he did so, might respond that this is what honorable men do. Such men respect the authority of the command and rule themselves accordingly. Insofar as their sentiments or stray thoughts are allowed any say in action, they must tow a line—or be marginalized. If you persisted is questioning this behavior long enough, he might eventually settle on one of two conclusions (no doubt just as Col. Tibbets), the second one rare to the point of being unheard of… Likely, he would put a stop at some point to the critical scrutiny entailed by reason. He would essentially disavow the obligation to question any further: there is authority and we must respect it. This disavowal is hypocrisy in its purest form. One begins by subjecting unruly feelings to the discipline of rule, and for a short time one plays the game of justification that rules entail, and then one quits this pastime when the whirlpool of consciousness threatens to engulf itself.

Once the decision is made to marginalize feeling or suspend reason’s license to inquire one is led down a path which inevitably leads to hypocrisy in almost every case.

Almost? Because, rare as it is, sometimes a man admits that he cannot place his faith in authority, that he must drown in that whirlpool, that he must face the full consequences of his decision. When that happens (this is the second, more improbable, reaction), he can only hope that there is mercy in this world or some other.

The point is that a woman is extremely unlikely to get into this predicament. (“A woman is never so stupid as a man can be.” Weininger.) Her tragedy will have an entirely different flavor. For her, in Weininger’s metaphysical symbolism, the image is rather that of a swamp rather than a river losing itself in the sea, and its dynamic different. But that is a subject for later…

The story of Hess’s weeping at the opera put on by condemned Jews may be apocryphal. However, we do have plenty of evidence of his resting in obedience to authority and, as it turned out in this case, this took the form of the Fuhrer. Hess was loyal to the point that even Hitler found it annoying. His authoritarian upbringing only reinforced his neurotic obsequiousness. But this is not an untypical form of “feminization” in men. However, raising boys to be sensitive to others (whether to any others or to, as in Hess’s case, figures of authority) does not, by itself, make them somehow quite woman-like in their respect for and submission to relationship, rather it makes them susceptible to rule via formal compliance. Hess did not appear to have the wherewithal for more than this. Actual compliance with an abstract moral law, Kant’s for instance, the only moral guidance native to males, by contrast, because it requires relentless self-criticism (something treacherously complicated to teach), is a more terrifically rigorous challenge. Such self-criticism is frightening to behold even to bystanders. They discourage it for it necessarily implicates them. There are, in effect, no moral bystanders. Formal compliance—sometimes politically expedient (Col. Tibbets), sometimes not (Deputy Hess), depending on luck—is the most widespread form moral hypocrisy takes.

(Something like this lurks behind my remark that “The whole planet has been populated by rapists.”)


…. The accusations against it [sentimentality] reflect our general uneasiness with emotions, especially “sweet” emotions, and the discomfort of “hard-headed” intellectuals in particular. One might add a sociological-historical hypothesis about the fact that the high class of many societies associate themselves with emotional control and reject sentimentality as an expression of inferior, ill-bred beings, and it is easy to add the now-familiar observation that male society, in particular, has held such a view. Sentimentality is supposed to be undignified (as opposed, for example, to cold-blooded respect, devoid of feeling)…

It is interesting to note that when women criticize sentimentality it has never had the same moral overtones it does as when men do. When viewed as defective it has been because sentimentality is used as a cover for moral inconsideration (selfish indulgence) or when it has failed on purely aesthetic grounds—as simply lacking in taste. (Though moral inconsideration, for her, is only in degree more serious than a misstep in etiquette.) There isn’t that visceral uneasiness with sentimentality—as not a matter of too much of something but a fear of any at all (never mind the glaring contradiction there)—that so affects men that they must legislate against it.

The sexual difference evident in the regard given to sentimentality precedes in each case those of social class. If it seems that power and maleness have aligned themselves to denigrate sentiment, it is the maleness that is the decisive ingredient. Power is always in the business of devaluing something; that it chooses here as its target emotional effusiveness is a mark of who has had the power.


What becomes more and more evident, as one pursues the objections to sentimentality, is that the real objection to sentimentality (and kitsch) is the rejection (or fear) of emotion, and of a certain kind of emotion of sentiment in particular, variously designated as “tender” or “sweet” or “nostalgic” (Harries: “cloying sweetness,” “sugary stickiness”)….

It is discomfort with the tender affections, I am convinced, that is the ultimate reason for the stylish attack on sentimentality.


What I am suggesting is that the attack on sentimentality is wrong-headed and possibly worse, a matter of self-deception or serious self-denial. (That, of course, is just what the critics say about sentimentality.) The usual attack on sentimentality is, I am convinced, too often an attack on innocence and the innocent enjoyment of one’s own tender and therefore “soft” emotions….

Unjustified attack and cover for inadequacy indeed it is, but is the target of tender emotions always, or even usually, innocent? Innocence and guilt are terms derived from an adult male morality, which, as we often say, is always defined as compliance with or violation of rules. What is neutral, adiaphorous, and to which cannot yet be attributed a rooted consciousness of rules may seem innocent but only to one desperate for an uncontaminated model, something in which to safely invest one’s hope. Children are a favorite receptacle. We want to believe that all that is wrong with the world has yet to take hold in them.

But children and all that is child-like are just as far away from innocence as they are from guilt. When we foist upon them an image of innocence we do so with the same motivation and consequence as when women are seen as symbols of beauty. In the same act, they have been made objects for our gratification. Is it always wrong to serve as an object of someone else’s dotage? Kant, of course, would say yes. Is it avoidable? Even Kant felt probably not. That fact, if it is one, however, does nothing to enhance the moral status of objectification. All that Kant might say here is that it is ok to objectify children (i.e., disrespect their autonomy, etc.) because as children they are not yet quite human: the moral law does not apply to them. And wouldn’t he—doesn’t he, in fact—say as much about women?…

But, you say, what if we don’t buy this conception of morality? Then can’t we blamelessly cast about our tender sentiments like rice at a wedding?

There most certainly is another more relaxed way to see beauty and goodness in human relations. The phrase “innocent women and children” reveals a lot about morality. It seems to imply that men are never innocent while women and children can be assumed to be. That implication and that assumption are in a very important sense correct, as any Kantian, pressed, would have to admit. Weininger explicitly excused women as amoral. (N.B., he did not accuse them.) When a woman lies, her lies do not carry the same moral taint as when a man does. She may wear them like apparel, well or badly. And there are rewards and penalties for how one dresses in human communities… But the price one pays for being innocent, when men make the attribution, is expulsion from the class human.

Now suppose we define what it means to be human differently: as having far less to do with rational capacity and agency and far more to do with flourishing in a natural and social environment, with creating beauty and fostering palpable goodness in these environments. Within such a conception, morality and all its terms of endearment and abuse would take on new meanings… “Innocence,” for one, would have as its opposite, not guilt, but something more like “troubled”. Guilt, the idea, as we know it, if not the word, would cease to exist, or mean something quite different, perhaps closer to shame.

Children (or kittens—which work better for me, since I can never remember myself so young that I felt innocent) playing in the grass might still be called innocent, but nothing even remotely moral would be meant by that. The emotion wouldn’t be called tender with the implication that it is such because it is vulnerable. It wouldn’t be vulnerable. Or rather, the adjective “tender” would be free to attach itself even to anger and bitterness. That is to say, all emotions being equally vulnerable—or potent, the distinctions so necessary to enforce discipline among them in male conceptions of morality would be superfluous.

The color of birds

Of all the arts, in my view, the one most capable of educing immediate emotional response is music. Yet it is also one of the most abstract and mathematical. I believe this conjunction is no accident.

The capacity and propensity for abstraction precipitates sentiment. At abstraction’s artificially high rate of spin, distilled feeling falls out. The tenderest musical compositions have been written by men for this reason. Only in them can sentiment be so separated from all else as to result in phenomenal concentrations. This does not by itself speak to the general aesthetic quality of such work, though it does create a foundation for what may be feasible: it explains the marshaling of sentimental forces. (In other arts whose mathematics are more diffuse, this is not the case. In poetry and the literary arts, for example, requiring, as they do, integration at many levels of imagination, sentiment is always wedded to idea and fact and never allowed to soar or sink in total isolation. In arts other than music, one would expect gender capacities closer to parity, if not tilted the other way.)

The aria, like color in birds, is male; the recitativ is burdened with the drabness of consequential truth.

Romance in men is divorced from all reality: the fact is both their charm and, to those affected by it, cause for alarm.

It should now be clearer why, from a male ethical view, emotion is so grudgingly tolerated. He fears his own flightiness. He alone knows to what extremes it may drive him…what murders he may lay at its doorstep, with the crazed eye of a cat bringing home fresh prey. He cannot ever fully trust himself in “the real world.” He leashes himself with a moral law. It explains why Kant was right, not about human, but about male morality.


* Cf. “Such is the force of natural compassion, which the greatest depravity of morals has as yet hardly been able to destroy! for we daily find at our theatres men affected, nay shedding tears at the sufferings of a wretch who, were he in the tyrant’s place, would probably even add to the torments of his enemies; like the bloodthirsty Sulla, who was so sensitive to ills he had not caused, or that Alexander of Pheros who did not dare to go and see any tragedy acted, for fear of being seen weeping with Andromache and Priam, though he could listen without emotion to the cries of all the citizens who were daily strangled at his command.” —Rousseau, A Discourse on Inequality.

Posted by luno in Moral Consciousness, aesthetics, Moral Sentiment, sex differences, Moral Theory, Kant, Weininger (Thursday September 8, 2005 at 12:47 pm)

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