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Adam Bede: Sympathy, Causation and Victorian Philosophy - Essay Example

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This research will begin with the statement that George Eliot, a pen name of Mary Ann Evans, sought in her novels to give people both a sense of how actions led to consequences through laws of causation and how those consequences had moral or immoral results…
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Adam Bede: Sympathy, Causation and Victorian Philosophy
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Download file to see previous pages The researcher states that Eliot believed that art has a social, moral mission – that its twin goals should be the destruction of egoism and the creation of sympathy for others”. Adam Bede is no different and tries to illustrate the ideas of moral sympathy and the realist law of causation through allegory and allusion to other work, usage of established plot conventions, the utilization of the legal system and its associated gaze as a plot point, and uses of language and character development. Eliot's mission was quite open: “The greatest benefit we owe to the artist, whether painter, poet or novelist, is the extension of our sympathies... [A] picture of human life such as a great artist can give, surprises even the trivial and the selfish into that attention of which is apart from themselves, which may be called the raw material of moral sentiment”. From this quote, we can deduce a few elements of Eliot's style and intent. First: She specifically associates morality with “sympathy”, or what we may call today empathy. For Eliot and thinkers like her, the moral life springs directly from human capacities to feel others' pains and be concerned for others' plight. Hume similarly declared that “sympathy is the source of the esteem, which we pay to all the artificial virtues”. For Hume, as for Eliot, ideas like justice and abstract codes of morality are created because, while people naturally do not greatly harm they love and are directly connected to, they find it much easier to harm those whose connections are more tenuous and abstract. But Eliot goes one step further and argues that good art can make specific and real general moral concepts and thus develop the species character of sympathy into more general “moral sentiment”. Similarly, Eliot shared with other Victorian thinkers (but not Hume) an almost ironclad certainty, or at least a belief that that certainty would be possible and valuable, in a particular model of the world and causality. Victorian-era novelists operated from an assumption that, at least in the world of fiction if not in the world of fact, there was a clear order of things, a “rock-solid... connection between realism and a philosophy of epistemological assurance”. Coming on the heels of the sceptical revolution, these realists tried to resist extremes of Cartesian certainty while nonetheless arguing that “scrupulous attention to detail” and accepting established models of reality would lead to successful prediction. Adam Bede, unsurprisingly, embodies and presages these developments. The setting of pastoral, country life and an idyllic farm town serves to make the later infanticide more shocking and thus help drive home the immorality of the action while opening the readers' mind to the consequences of such cruelty and wanton disregard. The people of the town are friendly and good hosts: “Take off the bridle and give him a drink, ostler”. They're candid, responding to questions about what Pastor Irwine thinks with simple, clear explanations and insight into Irwine's behavior. They are also humble and aware of cultural differences, helpfully explaining them to passersby: “I'm not this countryman, you may tell by my tongue, sir. They're cur'ous talkers i' this country, sir; the gentry's hard work to understand 'em. ...Download file to see next pages Read More
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