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Title: 'More sure than shifting theory' : George Eliot's ethics of fiction making
Author: Calder, S. R.
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2011
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Part I concerns the extent to which Eliot’s novels raise challenging questions about the epistemic function of experimental inquiry and provoke us to reflect on the nature of cognition. In Part II, I demonstrate how Eliot’s writings interrogate the nature of right action and engage in ethical inquiry. In Part III, I contend that Eliot’s writings invite us to distinguish between three distinct modes of teaching: a doctrinal mode, an exemplary mode and an aesthetic mode. I argue that Eliot utilises the third of these modes to impart knowledge and ethical guidance of a kind that more austere forms of writing cannot accomplish, because such knowledge and guidance are inseparable from the delight that readers experience in the act of reading fiction. I grapple with three critiques of Eliot’s authorial conduct. These are Bernard Paris’, that her experiments in life were ‘rigged’; Martha Nussbaum’s, that her writings falsify our human position; and Friedrich Nietzsche’s, that morality was not (yet) a problem for Eliot. By contesting these critiques, I strive to substantiate three positive claims of my own. First, for Eliot the aim to maintain a rich mode of being must precede and inform all endeavours to construct systems of knowledge or to determine moral laws. Secondly, for Eliot it is possible to perform non-scientific experiments in ethics by developing disciplined forms of reading and fiction-making. Thirdly, Eliot had to develop a specifically aesthetic mode of teaching because such ‘truths’ as she sought to convey could not be expressed through more conventional literary forms. I demonstrate how Feuerbach and Spinoza’s conceptions of human nature shaped the structure of Eliot’s fictions, even as her utilisation of the art of fiction-making facilitated the expression of different valuations and an alternate sense of life than we find expressed in these theorists’ writings.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available