Radical Temporality and the Modern Moral Imagination: Two Themes in the Thought of Michael Oakeshott

In “Radical Temporality and the Modern Moral Imagination,” Timothy Fuller, the dean of American Oakeshottian studies, powerfully evokes Oakeshott’s conception of the endlessness of practical life, which ceaselessly attempts to reconcile “what is” with “what ought to be.” This constitutes the “radical temporality” referred to in the title of his essay, and Fuller goes on to elaborate the various ways in which the modern moral imagination has responded to it. The modern moral imagination, as it expresses itself in Hobbes, Locke, Hume, Smith, and Kant, is marked by a faith in human self-perfection, a faith in humanity’s ability to escape the radical temporality of the human condition. Fuller argues that Oakeshott offers two alternatives to this modern politics of faith: first, a politics of skepticism that does not envisage the evanescence of human imperfection; and second, the voice of poetry, which, without denying the radical temporality of the human condi- tion, offers a temporary release from it in contemplative delight.

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