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The intellectual world view of the 19th Century

The intellectual world view of the nineteenth century, particularly perhaps in England, was largely shaped by the science of the eranot so much the specific findings of science as the attitudes towards the world and reality in general which at once gave rise to that science and were in turn reinforced by the successes of science. In this chapter it is argued that the world view of the nineteenthcentury novel closely paralleled the world view of nineteenthcentury scientists. In particular, it will be argued that novelists of this era tended toward an attitude which can be characterized as moral physics. That is, they held first that moral laws operated in much the same way that Newton's laws of planetary motions and the laws of thermodynamics were: by patterns of action and reaction; and second, that these laws could be observed and their workings determined through objective experiment.

Three novels are considered in this chapter as exemplars of the philosophy of moral physics in action. In George Eliot's Adam Bede (1968; orig. pub. 1859) the laws of moral action and reaction are shown to be the logical basis of what may be called conventional morality, and these scientific laws of behavior are shown in operation in a strikingly clearcut way. Seduction, we discover, is not simply a moral sin; it is behavior which leads by natural consequence to an unfortunate outcome. In Robert Louis Stevenson's youngreaders' classic, Treasure Island (1989; orig. pub. 1883) the laws of moral physics are shown in some ways to transcend those of conventional morality, so that a person whose role in society is illicit can nevertheless achieve moral success by acting in a way consistant with the laws of natural morality. Finally, in Jane Austin's Northanger Abbey (1953; orig. pub. 1818) the experimental aspect of moral physics is demonstrated: correct conclusions about moral behavior are shown to be reliably determined by objective anal...

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The intellectual world view of the 19th Century. (1969, December 31). In LotsofEssays.com. Retrieved 15:09, August 15, 2020, from https://www.lotsofessays.com/viewpaper/1682129.html