On philosophical issues in McCarthy’s 2005 novel about guys running around with drug money and shooting each other, and about fiction as a form for exploring philosophical ideas.
What can morality mean for people who have witnessed the “death of God,” i.e. a loss in faith in light of the horrors of war? For both the protagonist and antagonist in “No Country for Old Men,” morality is about being satisfied with your own actions, even if what you’ve done is set in stone forever, and even if it were to be the last thing you do before death. This is not purely subjectivist, though, seemingly not just dependent upon our whims. In McCarthy’s sort-of Nietzschean world, we have duties toward the dead, and duties towards ourselves. It’s clear that this sort of “ethic” is not coincident with “ethics” as we’re familiar with it, as it’s something shared by both the risk-taker-with-a-heart-of-gold hero and the I’ll-kill-you-like-cattle baddie.
What does McCarthy himself think? Who knows? Like many good philosophical novelists, he puts philosophies in the mouths of his characters to try them out as world views, to see how they hang psychologically and what fate they lead to, in the author’s best estimation. Another peculiarity of the novel as ethical philosophy is that is provides a full-blown concrete ethical situation to analyze instead of a classroom abstraction.
End song: “My Grandfather” by Dylan Casey (2001).
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