Autonomy, divinity, and the common good: Selflessness as a source of freedom in thomas hill green and mary augusta ward
Siani, A. L.
149 - 163
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Women philosophers on autonomy: Historical and contemporary perspectives
An often-mentioned marker of the influence of British Idealism at the end of the 19th century is the best-selling novel of 1888, Mrs Humphry (Mary Augusta) Ward’s Robert Elsmere, which draws heavily on Idealist themes and is usually understood as a popularization of T. H. Green’s view. Yet Ward deserves credit as a thinker in her own right, particularly for her creativity in explicating one of the most difficult components of Green’s view: the idea that we can only realize ourselves through certain kinds of relationships with each other. In Robert Elsmere, Ward tells the story of a disaffected clergyman who finds a new outlet for his religious energy in the thought of “Mr. Grey,” a philosopher who helps Robert to see each individual religion as a step in the progression in the realization of the Divine Spirit. But the novel pairs this trajectory with the story of two women: Robert’s wife Catherine and Catherine’s sister Rose, both of whom struggle with the role of religion in their lives and with Robert’s newfound mission. Through her portrayal of their psychological struggles, Ward questions whether the consensus about the good Green’s theory requires for autonomy is in fact actually attainable.