“Love”, says Iris Murdoch,” is the extremely difficult realization that something other than oneself is real. Love, and so art and morals, is the discovery of reality.”

Murdoch’s wonderful claim conjoins art and morals through her parsing of love.

This class is at once an exploration of the ethical implications of a vision of language explored in Wittgenstein, Stanley Cavell, Raimond Gaita, Peter Winch, Iris Murdoch, and Cora Diamond; and an exploration of Shakespeare’s plays, chiefly tragedies distinguished by the awesome fate of our acts of speech.

What Shakespeare shares with all these thinkers is a profound attack on the moralization of morality. Tragic freedom in Shakespeare obviates moralism, though it makes our every word, our every stand and judgment of unavoidable ethical consequence. What brings these thinkers together with Shakespeare is the idea that there is no separate domain of ethics, that much contemporary moral philosophy is profoundly reductionist in its restriction of ethics to the domain of rules, and obligations. What “vision of language” makes the ethical implications of language newly available? How is Shakespeare’s extraordinary linguistic range, precision, and poetry able to word the world for us in new ways? How does Shakespeare explore the binding power of words, and the ways in which we must mean what we say, our responsibility in meaning our words.

We will read a number of Shakespeare’s plays alongside some of these thinkers. Beginning with Wittgenstein’s exploration of pain and private language, we will examine the third section of The Claim of Reason, in its entirety, we’ll work with Peter Winch’s parsing of “The Good Samaritan”, and examine Cora Diamond’s exploration of concepts, their loss, and “the difficulty of reality” among other topics.

Students interested in Shakespeare, ethics, theatre and performance, tragedy, as well as questions of voice and acknowledgment in criticism, will find this class of interest.