“The great silliness of highly intelligent and perceptive people”


Portia from The Merchant of Venice—looking a bit like the way I imagine Virginia Woolf’s Orlando

In discussing the Bloomsbury Group’s enthusiasm for the ethical theories of G.E. Moore—his intuitionism, his utilitarianism, and his conviction that “personal affections and aesthetic enjoyments include all the greatest, and by far the greatest goods we can imagine”— Alasdair MacIntyre writes: “This is great silliness of course; but it is the great silliness of highly intelligent and perceptive people.” He therefore takes a careful look at sociological reasons that made Moore’s theories should be so plausible to Bloomsbury. He goes on to argue that Moore’s was a key influence on the emergence of emotivism (the theory that moral judgements are merely expressions of emotional approval or disapproval) as the dominant ethic of our time,  and then argues that the triumph of emotivism was due to the same sociological factors that made Lytton Strachey compare Moore favorably to all previous ethical thinkers, including “Aristotle and Christ.” Continue reading

Strachey on Newman’s Apologia

If anyone might have been expected to be dismissive of Newman it was Bloomsbury Group critic Lytton Strachey, who was not only vociferously opposed to Newman’s theology, but was also famous for pouring scorn on much of Victorian literature. And yet, this is how he writes of the Apologia:

Lytton StracheyIf Newman had died at the age of sixty, today he would have been already forgotten, save by a few ecclesiastical historians; but he lived to write his Apologia, and to reach immortality, neither as a thinker nor as a theologian, but as an artist who has embalmed the poignant history of an intensely human spirit in the magical spices of words. (Eminent Victorians)