The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 11.0840  Tuesday, 18 April 2000.

From:           Sean Lawrence <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Monday, 17 Apr 2000 11:52:36 -0700
Subject: 11.0819 Re: Some Thoughts
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.0819 Re: Some Thoughts

Bill Godshalk writes:

>I suppose that new borns begin constructing meaning (at, perhaps, an
>elementary level).  Are they born with a "prior ethical commitment"?

No.  But before they "begin constructing meaning" they reach out to
other people.  Communication is interpersonal before it has content

Clifford Stetner writes:

>Your labeling of "relativism" (I'm not clear about how you are defining
>this term) as a "risk" likewise betrays your premise that textual
>meaning should (ethical term) be determinate (proper antonym?).

Not necessarily.  Only that textual meaning should not be entirely
'free', nor, in practice, is it.  It should not be determinant in itself
(like an arbitrary, say fascist, dogma), or merely from a 'position in
history' but as the result of a prior ethical determination, which
itself depends on the interpersonal before it relates to a series of

>Diogenes and others have sometimes felt that cynicism was an ideal to be
>aimed at and cultivated.  Even that icon of logocentrism, Socrates, said
>that the really smart people admit to utter ignorance.  For me, the
>danger is in taking linguistic constructions produced by historical
>forces and submitting them as though they were pure, objective,
>essentialist Truths, and then becoming deceived by your own rhetoric
>into cleaving to them.  From Miami Cubans to Shiite Muslims, I think a
>little "relativism" would be an improvement.

Even if we ask people to be more accepting of one another (and let's
face it-we both do and should) that request would still follow upon a
prior ethical determination that it's better to be more accepting of one
another. If we abandon this sort of 'ground', then we run the risk of
clinging to a dogma which is merely arbitrary, like fascism.  Diogenes
abandoned reason and comfort, but he never abandoned the pursuit of

My real horror isn't before left-wing critics who sometimes seem to
abandon, ignore or even subvert the ethical grounds of their own
arguments.  Whether they admit it or not, they still have a strong
ethical 'good', as Charles Taylor would say.  My real horror is before
the cynical politician or stock trader, in the normal sense of the word
'cynical':  one who has abandoned virtue itself, who no longer has any
sense of the good, and who seeks only power or enjoyment.  Generally,
this sort of hedonism, by which all that is possible must be permitted,
is associated more with the greed of the new right, not with the ethical
concern of the left.

>Or else he wouldn't be much of a feminist.  However, to say that a
>reading is more "good" is quite different from saying it is more "true."

My point is that the 'good' is prior to the 'true'.  The text cannot
mean just whatever I want it to mean, or what my culture wants it to
mean, or the Nazi and the feminist readings are placed on an equal
footing.  Rather than being simply free-floating and determined only by
and from our own interest, its meaning should be determined starting
from an interpersonal imperative.


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