Morality as Art: Dewey, Metaphor, and Moral Imagination

Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society 35 (3):527-550 (1999)
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It is a familiar thesis that art affects moral imagination. But as a metaphor or model for moral experience, artistic production and enjoyment have been overlooked. This is no small oversight, not because artists are more saintly than the rest of us, but because seeing imagination so blatantly manifested gives us new eyes with which to see what can be made of imagination in everyday life. Artistic creation offers a rich model for understanding the sort of social imagination that is essential to moral deliberation. The " moral " of the arts is that everyday moral decisions can be as richly consummated as artistic productions. The distance is narrowed between this ideal and actual deliberations to the degree that a culture focuses beyond sedimented moral criteria to education of aesthetic virtues of sensitivity, perceptiveness, discernment, creativity, expressiveness, courage, foresight, communicativeness, and experimental intelligence. (Note: The key concepts and main line of argument in this article are further developed in ch. 7 of John Dewey and Moral Imagination: Pragmatism in Ethics (Indiana University Press, 2003).)

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Steven Fesmire
Radford University


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