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Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture


The philosophical effort to see and say the truth about human agents and human action seems very different from the poetic effort to delight us with actors who only pretend to do what we see them do. These two modes of thinking present action differently, and I approach this difference through pedagogical considerations associated with teaching ethics in philosophy classes. Students rightly sense a difference between the philosophical appreciation of human beings as practical and the character of real human action as acted. In this paper, I argue that part of this distance can be bridged by considering the poetic imitation of action. Obviously, the imitation of action is artificial and therefore also stands at some distance from real action as acted. Nevertheless, I argue, philosophical reflection can benefit from the support of poetic display. My claim is not merely pedagogical, but philosophical: poetic imitation and presentation of action brings human action to full intelligibility, which would otherwise remain dormant.

In the first part of this article, I make some general remarks about the metaphysical warrant for supplementing philosophical ethics with artistic presentation of action, that is to say, poiêsis in the Aristotelian sense. By drawing on some familiar Aristotelian distinctions, I show how literary depictions of action can carry philosophical weight. In the second, I consider, as one instance of philosophically insightful, poetic treatment of action, a short story by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn entitled “The New Generation.”




© Daniel P. Maher. Reproduced with permission.