Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Stikkers, Kenneth W. Review of Sergio Franzese's THE ETHICS OF ENERGY: WILLIAM JAMES MORAL PHILOSOPHY IN FOCUS. NDPR (May 2009).

Franzese, Sergio. The Ethics of Energy: William James's Moral Philosophy in Focus. Frankfurt: Ontos, 2008. Every scholar and reader of William James is aware of his frequent uses of "energy," especially in his discussions of ethics and most notably in his 1906 Presidential Address to the American Philosophical Association, "The Energies of Men". But while other interpretations treat James's use of "energy" as merely one of his several folksy metaphors, The Ethics of Energy: William James's Moral Philosophy in Focus is the first monograph, as its author, Sergio Franzese, rightly claims, to focus upon "energy" as a central concept in James's ethics. Ethics, for James, is not about values, goods, or principles but about the organization of energy, especially into habits, in the service of personal, aesthetic ideals. As such this book is an original and valuable addition to the literature on James, and it does much to bring James into closer dialogue with other recent efforts to rethink ethics without appeal to some rule of reason, whether it be in the form of an utilitarian calculus or a categorical imperative. Such efforts include those of Friedrich Nietzsche, whom Franzese discusses extensively, Max Scheler, whom he mentions only briefly (51-52), and especially Michel Foucault, whom he does not mention at all. Previous scholars have missed the importance of "energy" in James's philosophy, and thereby have misunderstood his ethics, because, Franzese argues (11-17), they have uncritically followed Ralph Barton Perry's early interpretation of James's 1891 essay "The Moral Philosopher and the Moral Life" as an outline of some new ethical theory and thus missed the truly revolutionary thrust of that essay. Rather than merely adding one more ethical theory to the lot, James's essay was a radical assault upon ethical theory as such, "a critical analysis of the validity of any moral theory," "intended to show the futility of that traditional philosophical task" (3). The essay aimed to clear the ground for the rethinking of ethics radically anew, to rethink it, as the title implies, in relation to life, rather than as theory abstracted from life. Furthermore, James was not merely cashing in on the popular use of "energy" in his day, as he did with so many other popular terms. "Energy" meant for him no metaphysical substance but rather activity -- living itself (166) -- and for James the pluralist there could be no singular, universal form of right living. The task of ethics is therefore not to prescribe theoretically the features of some universal Good, under which all particular goods are to be arranged and to which all moral agents must submit, but to organize practically the energies of life in service to one's own personal and ideally unified desires and demands against evil, namely, against "limits on the full and free expression of human life" (7): "the ethics of energy does not set moral aims and values"; rather, "it is . . . the way in which one becomes the master and author of one's own energy" (199). . . . Read the rest here:

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