What We Are Reading Today: Gentlemen Revolutionaries by Tom Cutterham

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Updated 20 October 2020

What We Are Reading Today: Gentlemen Revolutionaries by Tom Cutterham

In the years between the Revolutionary War and the drafting of the Constitution, American gentlemen—the merchants, lawyers, planters, and landowners who comprised the independent republic’s elite—worked hard to maintain their positions of power. Gentlemen Revolutionaries shows how their struggles over status, hierarchy, property, and control shaped the ideologies and institutions of the fledgling nation.

Tom Cutterham examines how, facing pressure from populist movements as well as the threat of foreign empires, these gentlemen argued among themselves to find new ways of justifying economic and political inequality in a republican society. At the heart of their ideology was a regime of property and contract rights derived from the norms of international commerce and 18th-century jurisprudence. But these gentlemen were not concerned with property alone. They also sought personal prestige and cultural preeminence. Cutterham describes how, painting the egalitarian freedom of the republic’s “lower sort” as dangerous licentiousness, they constructed a vision of proper social order around their own fantasies of power and justice.

 In pamphlets, speeches, letters, and poetry, they argued that the survival of the republican experiment in the US depended on the leadership of worthy gentlemen and the obedience of everyone else.

Lively and elegantly written, Gentlemen Revolutionaries demonstrates how these elites, far from giving up their attachment to gentility and privilege, recast the new republic in their own image.


What We Are Reading Today: Emotion and Virtue by Gopal Sreenivasan

Updated 01 December 2020

What We Are Reading Today: Emotion and Virtue by Gopal Sreenivasan

What must a person be like to possess a virtue in full measure? What sort of psychological constitution does one need to be an exemplar of compassion, say, or of courage? Focusing on these two examples, Emotion and Virtue ingeniously argues that certain emotion traits play an indispensable role in virtue. With exemplars of compassion, for instance, this role is played by a modified sympathy trait, which is central to enabling these exemplars to be reliably correct judges of the compassionate thing to do in various practical situations. Indeed, according to Gopal Sreenivasan, the virtue of compassion is, in a sense, a modified sympathy trait, just as courage is a modified fear trait.

While he upholds the traditional definition of virtue as a species of character trait, Sreenivasan discards other traditional precepts. For example, he rejects the unity of the virtues and raises new questions about when virtue should be taught. Unlike orthodox virtue ethics, moreover, his account does not aspire to rival consequentialism and deontology. Instead Sreenivasan repudiates the ambitions of virtue imperialism.

Emotion and Virtue makes significant contributions to moral psychology and the theory of virtue alike.