By Robert Audi
Princeton University Press – £24.95/$35.00
For a very brief period of time, I played in a band where the prime songwriter wrote songs in such a complicated manner, with such profoundly complex chord structures and arrangements, that the music ultimately left everyone cold. Cold, not because they, the audience, chose to feel as such; but because they somehow felt utterly disconnected. After all, most forms of music, whether its pop or jazz or rock’n’roll (in particular), isn’t about analysis.
It’s about making a connection.
The same very much applies to literature, and surely, to a certain degree, philosophy?
The twain has been known to occasionally meet, and when they do, all sides irrevocably win. This includes the writer, the reader, the idea itself and the eventual recipient of the idea. But when literature and philosophy don’t meet, not only is it a mighty shame, it’s frustrating. As what might have been gleaned by thousands of readers, lies unfortunately discarded amid a vast pit of philosophical potential, simply emblazoned with the words: too hard to comprehend/maybe next time.
Such is the case with Moral Perception.
Its author Robert Audi – who is not only Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, but whose previous books include Moral Knowledge and Ethical Character, Moral Value and Human Diversity, The Good in the Right (Princeton), and Practical Reasoning and Ethical Decisions – has herein written a book that is so dense, and so utterly didactic in the extreme, I found myself having to re-read certain paragraphs perhaps forty-five times – just in order to grasp what on earth was being conveyed (and I have a Masters in Ethics).
For instance, in Chapter Six (‘Emotion and Intuition as Sources of Moral Judgement’) under the sub-heading ‘The Intentionality and Judgmental Aspects of Emotion’ – which I have to admit, I found an idiosyncratically inviting title – Audi writes: ‘’We might also speak of attributive emotions, on analogy with attributive perceptions, where the emotion is toward a thing as taken to have a property. These emotions constitute an intermediate case, lying between simple emotions like fearing the pit bull and propositional ones like fearing that an accident will occur. I might see an approaching bear at nightfall as I take out recycling on a farm. Fearing such an approaching figure as threatening is possible without conceptualising the figure, and certainly without verbally labelling it even subvocally, though not without a discriminative grasp of the property of being threatening (one sees it as, say, animalic, large, and approaching).’’
Surely there’s an easier, simpler way of saying this?
Let alone a more direct, succinct and far more literal way?
It’s often been said that the best writing is to convey what you’re trying to say, by utilising the least amount of words possible. In other words, ye olde dictum LESS is MORE – which comes wholeheartedly into play in this instance.
Such is most certainly the case throughout the 173 pages of Moral Perception, where, for whatever reason, the book reads as if its author is juggling numerous arguments simultaneously; which, as mentioned at the outset of this review, is both a mighty shame as well as frustrating. Reason being, Audi clearly has some very valid things to say, such as the following in Chapter Two: ‘’Perceptual properties are perceptible, but not all perceptible properties are perceptual, nor need every instance of a perceptible property such as injustice be perceptible. A number of our examples indicate how perception reveals the perceptible. We can see this more clearly by considering whether the kind of perceptibility in question is a matter of being observable.’’
Now you tell me you don’t feel the need to read that again?