Musil’s Search for Ethics

René Brouwer


Musil rejects both traditional and modern conceptions of morality, as these offer either fixed sets of rules, or else principles that have to be applied rigidly. Instead, Musil proposes his alternative conception of what he calls “ethics,” which I here explain as a type of particularism. In Musil’s particularist account one ought to develop a sensitivity by which a situation at hand can be interpreted both in a variety of ways, and at the same time as precisely as possible. This heightened awareness of the possibilities that reality thus entails is best developed by means of a specific type of art, of which The Man Without Qualities is doubtlessly intended to be a prime example. This awareness might even lead to the experience of a reversal of self and world. Here Musil clearly goes beyond contemporary versions of particularism, by connecting it with what he calls a “crystal clear” mysticism. (RB)

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