The fragility of rationality: George Eliot on akrasia and the law of consequences
British Journal for the History of Philosophy
275 - 291
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George Eliot often uses the language of determinism in her novels, but we do not understand her view very well by treating such phrasing as addressing debates about the freedom of will directly. Instead she uses seemingly deterministic terms, like the ‘law of consequences', to depict and analyse a particular problem in moral psychology: those instances where we ourselves make it impossible to act on our own best judgements. When we fail to act on our best judgement, this has downstream effects, since it can produce a gap between prudential rationality and one's all-things-considered judgement. Surveying depictions of this problem in Silas Marner, Adam Bede, and Romola, I argue that it's a revealing problem for Eliot’s larger view, bringing together her objections to consequentialism, her recognition of the fragility of virtue, and her account of the role of sympathy in practical deliberation.