Episode 16
September 13, 2019


Hosted by Chris Piuma and Suzanne Conklin Akbari

An eminent philosopher among my friends, who can dignify even your ugly furniture by lifting it into the serene light of science, has shown me this pregnant little fact. Your pier-glass or extensive surface of polished steel made to be rubbed by a housemaid, will be minutely and multitudinously scratched in all directions; but place now against it a lighted candle as a centre of illumination, and lo! the scratches will seem to arrange themselves in a fine series of concentric circles round that little sun. It is demonstrable that the scratches are going everywhere impartially and it is only your candle which produces the flattering illusion of a concentric arrangement, its light falling with an exclusive optical selection. These things are a parable. The scratches are events, and the candle is the egoism of any person now absent.

We begin our cluster on Philosophical novels with Middlemarch, George Eliot’s massive and masterful “study of provincial life”. A sometimes overwhelming number of characters populate a small manufacturing town in the English Midlands around 1830—but the novel focuses on a few “later-born [Saint] Theresas”. People like Dorothea Brooke and Tertius Lydgate aspire to do some good in the world, but what does “doing good” look like? And can good be achieved in the world without a nuanced ethical relationship to the others who make up that world? Chris and Suzanne explore how these questions play out in Eliot’s characters, and also look towards Baruch Spinoza, who is quietly behind Eliot’s philosophy.

Show Notes.