Monday, April 28, 2014

Justice and How to Get There

Tragedy is never far away in Pride and Prejudice, and the brilliance of Austen's heroine is that Elizabeth can see the materially disastrous consequences of acting according to conscience and the good, yet she does the right thing anyway, refusing both Mr. Collins's modest competence and Mr. Darcy's powerful consequence because both men are, among other things, self-interested and self-important. Mr. Collins is clearly ineducable; Darcy, however, is capable of improving the education of his judgment. The questions of judgment and education are not frivolous, nor is the problem of how to bring about the right kind of learning. Austen's question through Pride and Prejudice is Plato's question in the Meno: "Can virtue be taught?"

Sarah Emsley, Jane Austen's Philosophy of the Virtues, p. 86. She says later (p. 89), "What is central to Pride and Prejudice is not wish-fulfillment or fantasy, but justice, and how to get there."

As a side note, this year is the 200th anniversary of the publication of Mansfield Park, and Emsley will be hosting an extended, months-long, discussion of it, starting May 9 on her blog.

5 comments:

  1. MrsDarwin3:52 PM

    I was just thinking of the Mansfield Park discussion the other day and looking forward to it. Maybe she could discuss the ending first and jog up some inspiration here.

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  2. Bellita3:03 PM

    +JMJ+

    You're not going to believe this, but I'm tweeting about #Meno right now! =P And according to my feed, I got to the answer of whether or not virtue can be taught . . . 33 minutes ago.

    This is my first foray into Greek philosophy, recommended by someone because I had been asking Twitter what "opinions" are and how accountable we are for those that we hold. What set me off was Brandon Eich's forced resignation, but I was being vague and abstract . . . so she was abstract back . . . and when we couldn't seem to understand each other, she brought up the statues of Daedalus.

    Anyway, reading Meno has been an interesting experience. Socrates is an amazing character. I have to sympathise with Meno and Anytus. I have the benefit of backing up and rereading everything, and I still feel like my head is spinning while Socrates has it in a lock.

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  3. Enbrethiliel3:05 PM

    +JMJ+

    You're not going to believe this, but I'm tweeting about #Meno right now! =P And according to my feed, I got to the answer of whether or not virtue can be taught . . . 33 minutes ago.

    This is my first foray into Greek philosophy, recommended by someone because I had been asking Twitter what "opinions" are and how accountable we are for those that we hold. What set me off was Brandon Eich's forced resignation, but I was being vague and abstract . . . so she was abstract back . . . and when we couldn't seem to understand each other, she brought up the statues of Daedalus.

    Anyway, reading Meno has been an interesting experience. Socrates is an amazing character. I have to sympathise with Meno and Anytus. I have the benefit of backing up and rereading everything, and I still feel like my head is spinning while Socrates has it in a lock.

    ReplyDelete
  4. branemrys3:30 PM

    The Meno is definitely a head-spinning place to start! A lot of the other instructors in the department where I teach use it; I prefer the Gorgias for a number of reasons, but have considered the possibility of trying to teach the Meno at some point. I had completely forgotten about the statues of Daedelus; definitely an interesting metaphor in the context of talking about opinions.

    Your livetweeting of the Meno is pretty fun to read. Plato's Socrates definitely is one of the great characters in Western literature. And one of the things that is always true of Plato is that he is always doing many things at once -- every example, every metaphor, every analogy, every twist of argument is always doing more than it seems to be at first glance.. As I always tell my students, "Make it your slogan in reading that Plato has a reason for every single thing he does; it's very nearly true."

    If you like Socrates, by the way, I suspect you would like Xenophon's Symposium, by the way -- one of the few surviving non-Plato Socratic dialogues by another of Socrates's students. Xenophon's Socrates is a bit milder than Plato's, but is recognizably the same person, and in Xenophon's version you get most of the Socrates but in bite-sized pieces.

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  5. branemrys3:31 PM

    That would be nice! I'll be looking to see if there are any ideas useful for working through the Austen-as-philosopher side of things.

    ReplyDelete

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