Is your favorite crime fiction hero Kantian, or Aristotelian?
|Don't be bad because |
that would feel good
|Be good, but not too good|
Maimonides has to be one of the more fascinating humans who ever lived, and reading about his life is good mental exercise. He was a 12th-century Jewish sage infused with Aritotelian philosophy and Muslim learning, and he sought bold and controversial syntheses and reconciliations among those systems. He wrote in Hebrew. He wrote in Arabic. He wrote treatises on Jewish law and on philosophy, and, in his capacity as court physician to Saladin's vizier, on hemorrhoids and asthma. He was among the early advocates of good nutrition as a pathway to good health. He, in other words, rather than that guy on the beer commercials, may be the most interesting man in the world.
Halbertal discusses two moral traditions with which Maimonides grappled as he sought to define what constitutes a good man. One, of long standing but later exemplified in Immanuel Kant's work, is that morality consists in doing one's duty. "Kant's philosophical position," Halbertal says, "reflects in many ways a venerable approach that sees the moral life as one in which a person successfully resists his desires."
The alternative is to develop one's character to the point that "one will act virtuously by reason of his personality and will have no need to use his will to suppress his inclinations," to develop a middle way between extremes, a la Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics.
This got me thinking that modern crime-fiction good guys, at least in hard-boiled crime fiction, are more Kantian than Aristotelian, and Chandler's man walking down these mean streets may be more Aristotelian. Fighting demons seems more in tune with the times than does striving for a balanced character. (Think Ken Bruen's Jack Taylor or Lawrence Block's Matt Scudder fighting their own demons as much as or more than they fight crime.)
What do you think, readers? Is your favorite crime-fiction hero a fighter against his or her own urges, or a well-balanced human being? What does being a good person mean in crime fiction? And do readers even care about good guys anymore?
© Peter Rozovsky 2014