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And now for something completely different (or maybe not): the works of Jane Austen.

In a fascinating post on the Philosopher’s Beard blog, Austen is not only praised as a literary genius, but also as an under-appreciated moral philosopher:

  • “Austen celebrates and promotes a solidly middle-class propriety, and this together with her use of narrative… may explain Austen's neglect by academic moral philosophers.”

Academic disdain for bourgeois values is all too predictable, but what's their problem with the novel as a vehicle for moral philosophy?  Indeed, one could argue that the narrative approach is entirely appropriate to the serious study of virtue:

  • “[In meeting] Socrates’ challenge to ‘know thyself’… we have an author’s omniscient access to the details of our own lives.”

Of course, we’d rather not “see ourselves as we really are” – at least not the way that Austen dissects the “follies, flaws and self-deceptions” of her characters.  Indeed, as a culture we’ve gone to great lengths to avoid any such thing:

  • “Academic moral philosophers since the enlightenment have collaborated with this natural aversion by collectively turning their attention away from uncomfortable self-examination and towards elaborating coherent systems of rules that any agent should follow.”

Perhaps what we see here are the philosophical roots of over-regulation: red tape not as the enforcement of personal responsibility, but as a second-rate substitute.

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