Ethics and Exemplary Narrative in Chaucer and Gower (Chaucer by J. Allan Mitchell

By J. Allan Mitchell

Why do medieval writers often utilize exemplary rhetoric? How does it paintings, and what are its moral and poetical values? And if Chaucer and Gower has to be obvious as vigorously subverting it, then why do they persist in utilizing it? Borrowing from fresh advancements in moral feedback and thought, this ebook addresses such questions by means of reconstructing a overdue medieval intent for the ethics of exemplary narrative. the writer argues that Chaucer's Canterbury stories and Gower's Confessio Amantis attest to the power of a story - instead of strictly normative - ethics that has roots in premodern traditions of sensible cause and rhetoric. Chaucer and Gower are proven to be inheritors and respecters of an early and unforeseen kind of moral pragmatism - which has profound implications for the orthodox background of ethics within the West.

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Qxd 3/3/04 24 10:13 AM Page 24 Ethics and Exemplary Narrative in Chaucer and Gower myself here to a discussion of historical precedents that serve to illuminate the ethics of exemplarity, for I am interested in casuistry less as a discrete historical phenomenon, associated with a school of thought, named personages, or time period, than as an enduring pragmatic orientation to problem-solving that cuts across time and is thus irreducible to any single epoch. Casuistry so-conceived simply gives us a useful account of the kind of practical, case-based analysis persons of any period may draw upon.

While the technique was taught in the schools of Paris and practiced with especial facility by the mendicant orders, the laity would have been the real beneficiaries of such minute attention to the details of conscience and moral context; and they would likely have picked up the new habits of thought. So we can safely say that post-Lateran reforms broadened the scope of ethical deliberation for medieval Christians, turning individuals outward upon the world with a sensibility attuned to the circumstances while also promoting a new inwardness, enabling the objectification of the self in ways that could be said to have produced an interiorized, casuistic ethics.

Similarly, exemplarity does not designate a fixed genre or form, but is rather a manner of ethical reflection. 8, 1356b. 22 “Aristotle’s Example: The Rhetorical Induction,” The Quarterly Journal of Speech 66 (1980), p. 188. 19, 1357b. 2, 1104a3–7. Jonsen and Toulmin, The Abuse of Casuistry, p. 73, note that the Rhetoric includes “a digest of books I–IV of the Nicomachean Ethics,” so that the two disciplines literally converge in Aristotle. 7–8, 1394a. qxd 3/3/04 28 10:13 AM Page 28 Ethics and Exemplary Narrative in Chaucer and Gower ones.

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