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Russell Kirk and the moral imagination

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posted on 2022-03-28, 21:52 authored by John Fairley
This thesis is a comprehensive investigation of Russell Kirk’s doctrine of the Moral Imagination. It focuses especially on the nature of the Moral Imagination as integrative and non-reductionist, or what Kirk sometimes describes as illative. It explores Kirk’s development of this concept as one through which the individual can grasp his fully human nature and dignity, and which makes use of all the important areas of human social interactions and all the human faculties of knowing, providing man with immersive moral knowledge and support. The thesis is significant for its unique focus on Kirk’s Christian humanist influences – especially T. S. Eliot, Christopher Dawson, G. K. Chesterton, and C. S. Lewis. The aim is to understand Kirk’s attempt to develop the concept of a normative imagination that avoids reductionism in understanding man’s moral life, by presenting a unified vision that neglects no important aspects of man’s life, being, and social interactions. The thesis also aims to explore the norms that Kirk believes it is the purpose of the Moral Imagination to apprehend and to structure human life. This contribution is clarified through comparing Kirk’s use of the concept of the moral or normative imagination to recent use of the concept by writers such as Martha Nussbaum and David Bromwich. This thesis also contrasts Kirk’s vision of the Moral Imagination with the kind of sceptical conservatism exemplified in the writings of Michael Oakeshott. The aim of this comparison is to discover whether Kirk’s theory of the Moral Imagination can overcome the limitations of a conservatism that rejects the role of universal norms and purposes in politics and constructs its conservatism only on the foundation of avoiding rapid and incautious change.


Table of Contents

Introduction -- Chapter One. Russell Kirk and Christian humanism -- Chapter Two. Russell Kirk and the moral imagination -- Chapter Three. The moral imagination and tradition and history -- Chapter Four. The moral imagination and literature and the arts -- Chapter Five. Education and the moral imagination -- Chapter Six. Religion and the moral imagination -- Chapter Seven. Social associations and the moral imagination -- Chapter Eight. Politics and the moral imagination -- Conclusion.


Theoretical thesis. Bibliography: pages 176-199

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


PhD, Macquarie University, Faculty of Arts, Department of Modern History, Politics and International Relations

Department, Centre or School

Department of Modern History

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Ian Tregenza


Copyright John Fairley 2015. Copyright disclaimer:




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