Re: RARA-AVIS: Greco-Roman philosophy and hardboiled ethics

From: Kerry J. Schooley (
Date: 31 Aug 2005

At 11:54 AM 31/08/2005 -0400, you wrote:
>I certainly don't mean it's a
>didactic book, but if you wanted to show how moral failings lead to
>trouble, then any noir book is jammed with examples. Not that that's why
>we read them. (Or do we?)

It's certainly one of the reasons that I read them.

I think the notion of a person being good or evil, moral or immoral, is Protestant. Catholicism treats morality more as aspiration than a condition. If people were moral there would be no place for confession, the idea that one can be forgiven for sin and try again. Seems to me this recognizes the human condition, as much as Protestantism recognized its weaknesses. This practice also recognizes the human need to confess, as well. Crimes are frequently solved because people feel a need to tell someone when they've done something they think may be wrong. But noir is also about the practice of power, and the person who hears confessions and comes to know the secrets within his community, becomes very powerful indeed. There is no need to threaten to reveal those secrets. When you give a secret up, you give up some power as well. I think this was examined in the movie - was it True Confessions? Don't know, but I'd like to know, if there are any books on this theme.

>Sam Spade was, he said, mostly concerned about who killed his partner
>because that's what people expected him to do. Custom said that when a
>detective's partner was killed, the remaining detective had better solve
>the case, or else it was bad for business. Some schools of thought said
>custom was important, but others would say one's internal morals
>outweighed that. Spade's morals and his behaviour are a specially
>interesting case, and I'd have to reread the end of THE MALTESE FALCON to
>remind myself of details before I say more.

Yeah, but is this morality? "Bad for business" seems more an amoral statement to me. The killer of a business associate draws a lot of attention, and if people see that a detective cannot detect the killer of his partner, well, he cannot be very good. Not worth hiring. Yes, it's about public expectations, but it's about what a man should do to stay in business, not to be a moral person. Of course, we might suspect that Hammett felt business had replaced morality as the guide for behaviour in modern America.

Best, Kerry

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