Deutsche Gesellschaft für die Erforschung des 18. Jahrhunderts
Annual Conference Moral Cultures
(Paderborn, September 19-22, 2018)
Hardly any term is as ubiquitous during the 18th century as the term ‘morale’. For Niklas Luhmann the ‘universalization of moral demands’ is a pivotal trigger in the ongoing transformation of society from stratified to functional differentiation: It forces back religion’s dominance, gives way to those new pedagogical (e. g. Pestalozzi, Weiße), psychological (Erfahrungseelenkunde) and political or juridical concepts (democracy, theories of penalty) that modern societies are based on. Furthermore, the omnipresence of morale is intertwined with the way an aspiring bourgeoisie defines itself and its educational values in opposition to nobility (see Carl Friedrich Bahrdts Handbuch der Moral für den Bürgerstand, 1790).
In addition to these social developments, morale is also the key element of the 18th-century aesthetic discussion since arts and literature aim at transforming uneducated masses into responsible and mature citizens who are able to tell right from wrong, and therefore make useful members of society. This is even true of concepts like that of Autonomieästhetik around 1800. Schiller’s classical approach still sees theatre as an institution of morale (moralische Anstalt), although the aesthetic ideals of both Weimarer Klassik and Romanticism have often been set apart from those of the Enlightenment.
Morale’s domination of both academic discourse and everyday life during the 18th century, its forms and consequences need to be studied thoroughly in order to truly understand the culture of the time. In fact, contemporary debates show that there is no simple answer to the question of morale in the 18th century itself. On the contrary, the need to include morale into every aspect of life causes a number of problems. For example, it remains unclear what specific measures are to be taken in order to facilitate the moral education of the people. In the early 18th century, most scholars choose a rational approach. Such an approach leads to the ascent of literary genres that offer an explicit lesson or advice to the reader, just like the ‘morale’ of the fable, one of the most popular genres at the time. During the 18th century this rational approach draws more and more criticism. The philosophy of moral sense, as an alternative, establishes the ideal of an integral education that enables individuals to judge for themselves, not having to rely on a set of ‘lessons’ they were given by an academic elite. Now, having an explicit morale at the end of a literary text is even considered hurtful to the goal of making the reader a better person – not only because reality is too complex to capture everything a person has to know in a single sentence, but also because a mature audience, the one the Enlightenment wants to create, will not appreciate being spoken to as children who know nothing of the world. Once the discussion reaches this point, of course, even more attempts are made to solve the conflict. As long as giving up the goal of moral education altogether is not an option, which it finally will be around 1800, the ‘problem of morale’ remains central giving way to what can be called the different ‘moral cultures’ the conference would like to explore.
The term ‘moral culture’ refers, on the one hand, to the fact that the question of morale in the 18th century is not just an academic or aesthetic problem, but defines large parts of everyday life. People read moral weeklies and find joy in extending and constantly questioning their faculties of judgment. Behaving morally is a requirement for anyone who wants to be part of society; critique becomes a matter of public interest. Bon ton requires a certain amount of display of one’s morality, which is truly to be lived through joined enjoyment and critical assessment of art – whether in the direct personal contact of family life or reading societies or, at more distance, in writing (letters, public journals etc.). Using the term ‘culture’ also implies that morale is an essential requirement for cultivated existence and the progress of civilization – a crucial general idea of the Enlightenment’s worldview. For this reason moral judgment is seen to be a predicament of critical judgment as such, so aesthetic education becomes a relevant basis of moral schooling. Of course, there is the opposite point of view we can see in story of Inkle and Yariko about the ‘barbarian’ who has higher moral standards than the civilized European. This story illustrates that morality is something one is born with and faces the danger of being lost in the course of civilization. These opposite views both show how western societies use morale to define themselves in contrast to ‘naïve’ cultures that either existed in the past or that are found in other regions of the earth in the course of the discovery and the conquest of new continents.
On the other hand, we emphasize the plural of ‘morale cultures’ to accentuate that the central function of morale not only comes along with many different shapes on the numerous levels of social and aesthetic discourse but furthermore develops a plurality of distinct moral cultures. The reason for this is primarily that the 18th century aims to make access to moral discussion available for a great amount of people. Not only scholars get to voice their thoughts in moral weeklies but also ‘common’ folks and especially women, represented in dialogues and letters by authentic or fictional authors.
The 2018 Annual Conference of the German Society for Eighteenth Century Studies (DGEJ) wants to provide scholars in relevant fields with the opportunity to take the importance of morale during the 18th century seriously, and initiate an intense ongoing discussion about the complexity of the phenomena which we believe will prove to be extremely fruitful for future studies. The following eight sections offer suggestions and potential research questions to inspire proposals for the conference.
1. Moral Cultures in the 18th Century
This section gives room for major theoretical reflection on morale, both on the term and its specific role in the 18th century. Papers can address the particular historical background which leads to the ascent of morale as a crucial concept of discourse or raise the question when, how and why this phase comes to an end. What other macro-level theoretical concepts are useful to describe or elaborate the individual potential outcomes of the other section (e. g. Luhmann’s differentiation of society, beginning of modernism, Sattelzeit). What does it mean to use the term ‘moral cultures’? Which distinct cultures of morale can be found? Which are the underlying similarities that suggest the existence of only one moral culture or a superstructure that brings the different versions of morale cultures together?
2. Morale, Ethics and Religion
This section gives room to discuss works of philosophy and theology on morale from the 18th century and to highlight interdependences between moral philosophy, ethics and religion. Since the topic is vivid there are numerous reflections on the concept of morale and its role in society. While rationalistic approaches tend to claim that moral judgment can be taught and learned, the theories of moral sense see morale as something every individual has a natural understanding of which can only be cultivated or protected from disfiguration. The importance of religion is now based on its moral achievements (as in Lessings Nathan der Weise). An intimate practice of religion outside the church comes into practice (Pietism) in close relation to questions of morale. Both of these developments help overcome simplified theories of secularization during the Enlightenment.
3. Morale in Politics and Law
The leading function of morale results in a different relationship between individual and government, reflected in new political and juridical concepts. In opposition to absolutism, the most important form of government in the 17th century, the ruler now has to meet certain moral standards to be seen as a ‘good’ head of state. In other countries, the concept of monarchy is eliminated altogether – sometimes successfully like in the foundation of the United States, sometimes only temporarily like in France. The moment former subjects are considered humans, more humanitarian forms of punishment are discussed (the best-known example is, of course, the guillotine). We invite scholars to discuss the various aspects of morale and public welfare in all fields of political or legal reforms as well as constitutional aspects.
Prof. Dr. Lothar van Laak, Dr. Kristin Eichhorn
Neuere deutsche Literatur und Allgemeine Literaturwissenschaft
Fakultät für Kulturwissenschaften
Warburger Str. 100
Please send your abstract (about 300 words) for a 20-minute paper, along with a short CV (1 page), until June 30 2017 to:
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