Moral Shapes of Time in Henry James

  • Meili Steele
Part of the Analecta Husserliana book series (ANHU, volume 109)


Moral philosophers often turn to the works of Henry James as a resource. Martha Nussbaum, for instance, reads James’s texts for moral examples of the quest for the good. Robert Pippin’s neo-Hegelian approach, on the other hand, reads James’s texts as capturing the moral ambiguities of living through a major shift in social structure of the Western society. For Nussbaum, James’s language is about the subtle perceptions of the characters and narrators. For Pippin, the novel’s complex syntax and obscure diction capture the uncertainties of social transition. Neither one examines the ontological dimension of James’s approach to language and morality. This paper looks at James’s as a moral philosopher in the line of Charles Taylor and Richard Rorty, for whom questions of morality emerge in the context of the linguistically articulated identities of the individual and community. Through this lens, James is a philosopher of language whose novels display the rupture and repair of semantic packages of moral beliefs. Unlike Nussbaum and Pippin, I maintain that James’s late style needs to be considered as something more than an aesthetic vehicle for ethical content. Instead, it presents a phenomenological and ontological drama that gives moral meaning temporal as well as semantic shapes.


Moral Reasoning Moral Philosopher Moral Belief Semantic Place Moral Perception 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. Brandom, Robert. 2000. The vocabularies of pragmatism. Rorty and his critics. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  2. James, Henry. 1964. The ambassadors. New York, NY: Norton.Google Scholar
  3. James, Henry. 1909. The golden bowl, 2 vols. New York, NY: Scribners.Google Scholar
  4. James, Henry. 1984. Literary criticism: Essays on literature: American writers, English writers. New York, NY: Library of America.Google Scholar
  5. James, William. 1928. The letters of William James, ed. Henry James.2 vols. Boston, MA: Atlantic Monthly Press.Google Scholar
  6. MacKinnon, Catherine. 1984. Feminism unmodified. Cambridge: Harvard University.Google Scholar
  7. MacKinnnon, Catherine. 2007. Women’s lives, Men’s laws. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  8. Nussbaum, Martha. 1990. Love’s knowledge. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  9. Pinkard, Terry. 2004. Taylor, ‘History, and the history of philosophy. Charles Taylor, ed. Ruth Abbey, 187–213. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Pippin, Robert. 2000. Henry James and modern moral life. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  11. Rorty, Richard. 2005. Philosophical papers, vol. IV. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  12. Searle, John. 1969. Speech acts: An essay in the philosophy of language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  13. Steele, Meili. 2005. Hiding from history: Politics and public imagination. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
  14. Stout, Jeffrey. 2004. Democracy and tradition. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  15. Taylor, Charles. 1985. Language and human agency. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  16. Taylor, Charles. 2004. Modern social imaginaries. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.Google Scholar
  17. Taylor, Charles. 1993. The motivation behind the procedural ethic. In Kant and political Philosophy, ed. Ronald Beiner. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  18. Taylor, Charles. 1989. Sources of the self. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  19. Veeder, William. 1971. Strether and the transcendence of language. Modern Philology 69: 116–132.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of South CarolinaColumbiaUSA

Personalised recommendations