The Moral Genius Club

Jan 20 2013 @ 3:38pm

Charles Fried reads John Fabian Witt’s Lincoln’s Code as “an extended tribute to Lincoln’s moral genius”:

Moral genius, like political genius, is far closer to artistic genius than it is to genius in science or mathematics. It has to do with putting together familiar elements in unexpected ways, combining and recombining the materials to take account of and overcome the constraints of those materials, and finally coming up with a whole that surprises by its power, its aptness, and its sense that we are experiencing something fundamentally new. Relating moral genius to the genius of Keats or Raphael or Bach may seem to diminish the ultimate seriousness, the urgency of morality — or at least to make a category mistake that slights the special quality of each. But they do have things in common. In each case we cannot look at the world again in the same way after we have taken them in. Everything that has gone before and comes after takes on a different valence and hue.

Alan Jacobs wonders who counts as a moral genius:

For a Christian such as myself, Jesus is the obviously ideal exemplar of moral genius, but the category would obviously apply to other founders of religious traditions: the Buddha, Moses, Mohammed, etc. Below this obvious highest level, I wonder whom else we might identify as moral geniuses? The prophet Isaiah, certainly; St. Francis of Assisi; Maimonides; in a peculiar but important sense Montaigne.

Anyone care to nominate others?