Gower Bibliography

Gower's Metaethics

Kuczynski, Michael P. "Gower's Metaethics." In John Gower: Recent Readings. Papers Presented at the Meetings of the John Gower Society at the International Congress on Medieval Studies, Western Michigan University, 1983-88. Ed. Yeager, R.F.. Studies in Medieval Culture (26). Kalamazoo, MI: Western Michigan University, 1989, pp. 159-207.


Links CA to the tradition of medieval "metaethics," which treats the meaning of the terms of our moral discourse rather than the rules that govern moral behavior ("normative ethics"). As his basic metaethical text he uses Abelard's "Scito Teipsum," the main concern of which is "intentionality and the extent to which ignorance of the nature of one's acts reduces moral culpability" (p. 190). Both Abelard and Gower share the use of dialogue as a way of exploring moral questions; both also use exempla not for simple moralitates on human conduct but as ways of exploring the nature of moral terms. Gower is more likely to have been familiar with the many anonymous vernacular moral treatises that imitated Abelard's method than with Abelard himself. From one such text, Kuczynski draws a discussion of bisinesse for comparison to Gower's portrayal of Amans in Book 4 of CA. The text he quotes distinguishes between two antithetical types of bisinesse, one the avid pursuit of things of this world, the other the avid pursuit of spiritual goods. Both Langland and Chaucer demonstrate familiarity with the distinction. Gower dramatizes it in the condition of Amans, who is caught in both a verbal and a moral paradox: his complaints about the unprofitability of his bisinesse in love betray a deeper misunderstanding of the difference between proper and improper bisinesse and the need to reconsider his definition of bisinesse itself. The exampla in Book 4 are meant to make Amans and the reader more conscious of the various possible meanings of the term. Because of his role, serving both Venus and God, Genius must proceed indirectly, but he thus forces both Amans and the reader to interpret his stories carefully and to become "more conscious of the nature of moral language itself" (p. 201). The tale of Pygmaleon, for instance, far from encouraging Amans' conduct, portrays a character who, like Amans, is merely a slave to fantasy; and despite the expressed lesson on the rewards for persistence in love, it offers not hope but the example of another man who is subject to the whims of Fortune, in both respects exposing the true nature of Amans' bisinesse. [PN. Copyright The John Gower Society. JGN 9.2]

Item Type:Book Section
Subjects:Confessio Amantis

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