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Henry James Case

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A morally instructive art has been the pursuit of almost all of serious artists. But what is morally good? Or what is morally evil? Philosophers have been debating the criteria ever since the appearance of art. Henry James, a prolific novelist of the 20th century, has interpreted the complex question in his literary works. He makes an elaborate connection between art and life, openness and experience, experience and knowledge, suggesting that these forces continually interanimate each other as they play their roles in an individual's gradual understanding of self, world and moral judgment. This thesis will study The Portrait of a Lady from the ethical perspective and.explore James's attitude toward morality and experience. By mocking the failed judgments and dogmatic moral principles, James deconstructs the theoretic moral dogmas and presents a kind of moral phenomenon in his textual world, in which we feel, understand, and become wise and moral. By interpreting the moral dilemma in this literary way, we are informed that what people expect from the ethics is the guide of the right way of living and the insights that confer significance on the life. The morality of art goes beyond the mere judgment of right and wrong, or good and evil. A morally good novel, which is extension of our experiential life, is the one that arouses and encourages our great curiosity about the exploration of life. There is no fixed criterion for the question of morality in art and life. What can be of moral interest is discovered in the experience and in our devotion to life itself. Morality is, instead of a set of prohibitions of our behavior, an attitude toward living which would guarantee our blissful life and acquisition of truth in life.This thesis is divided into four parts: The first part is a critical review of Henry James and the creation background of The Portrait of a Lady. Based on the criticism and specific context, I find the validity of my ethical perspective from which I am to explore James's increased understanding of complexity and variety of social life and his moral philosophy and illustrate his understanding of morality and experience in the fictional world and the social life as well.The second part of this thesis explores the understanding of morality by HenryJames and other philosophers in the history. The criteria for morality are prescribed as obligations according to Plato, Kant and the utilitarian. The source of obligations or duties to others might be stated as God, or a holy book, or parental instruction. Obeying or defying the prescriptions is the measure when making moral judgments. These behavioral theories prescribe the quality of morality by focusing on the goodness or evil specific actions or responsibilities, but ignoring the executors and agents who possess their different intentions and comply with their principles of "morality." The new science of Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species (1859) called



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