Coda
in Spenser’s ethics
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Spenser’s ethics are organized among concerns that would become pivotal to the transforming discipline of moral philosophy in early modernity: making the status of humanity itself a central speculative problem of moral inquiry, and centering social obligations as both the normative guide to, and ultimate telos of, virtuous agency. Spenser is thus important to the history of moral philosophy because he also illuminates the ways these questions find a crucial aspect of their historical origin in early modern England’s political emergence as a colonial empire, helping to shape central representational and critical problems of British intellectual culture well into the modern era: the challenge of understanding colonialism, and the coercive violence on which it depends, as a moral activity. Reading Spenser as a moral theorist, and one whose moral theory is significantly shaped by his experiences in Elizabethan Ireland, thus illuminates at a crucial moment of historical inception that philosophical tradition’s pivotal turn as it evolved alongside early modern England’s wider political and economic transformation into a global nation-state built on the foundations of colonial expansion.

Spenser’s ethics

Empire, mutability, and moral philosophy in early modernity

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