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How Is Horatio Just? How Just Is Horatio?


When examined in context, two lines in Hamlet—“Horatio, thou art e’en as just a man / As e’er my conversation coped withal” (TLN 1904–5)—suggest that for Hamlet, being just and being conscientious derive from being able to take a disinterested, nonstakeholder’s attitude toward what one is thinking about. Hamlet admires this attitude in Horatio without claiming to have it with any consistency himself. He does not constitute this attitude as an absolute possibility, but as a relative virtue. This mode of moral thinking looks forward toward the post-Kantian Romantics whose way of discussing the play has proved so contagious ever since. It also anticipates the form in which moral disinterestedness survives modern skepticism about the possibility of pure or absolute virtues.

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