Born in moral stupidity, taking the world as an udder to feed our supreme selves


The last paragraph of chapter XXI of George Eliot’s Middlemarch.

We are all of us born in moral stupidity, taking the world as an udder to feed our supreme selves: Dorothea had early begun to emerge from that stupidity, but yet it had been easier to her to imagine how she would devote herself to Mr. Casaubon, and become wise and strong in his strength and wisdom, than to conceive with that distinctness which is no longer reflection but feeling—an idea wrought back to the directness of sense, like the solidity of objects—that he had an equivalent centre of self, whence the lights and shadows must always fall with a certain difference.

Morality requires educated feeling. It’s never a finished product. We never get good enough at understanding other people’s equivalent centre of self. Reason and logic by themselves are hopeless at the task.

Comments

  1. aziraphale says

    Yes, very well said. I have downloaded Middlemarch. Maybe I’ll get around to reading it now.

  2. says

    Morality requires educated feeling. It’s never a finished product.

    Not to mention that as conditions and society changes morals often become altered in how they relate to people and society. Some morals require setting aside for a time. Some are no longer necessary and can be abandoned. Some are discovered to have never been useful at all. Some need to be updated and re-contextualized to modern times. Some need to be invented.

    We never get good enough at understanding other people’s equivalent centre of self. Reason and logic by themselves are hopeless at the task.

    Yep. As a group we recognize a wide variety of emotions, impulses, moods, sensitivities, and more. But we tend to pretend that we all share them and the experience of them universally. We don’t all anger or rage the same. We don’t all pain and suffering the same. We come into the world differently sensitive to many experiences and perceptions (even through the experiences of our ancestors written into altered gene expression) and these differences are farther modified by different upbringing and experience.

    We have all the same words for a set of feelings of perception, and we don’t feel those perceptions the same. True understanding requires figuring out all the ways that these differences play out and we can’t get that without letting different people tell you how they feel, accepting their feelings as fact independent of any logical appraisal of reality, and making that part of how we accommodate each other and come up with our mutual solutions for problems.

  3. Omar Puhleez says

    Animals can learn. They have feelings. They can be joyous, angry, and suspicious: and display a host of other responses. They grieve. Anyone who has ever owned a dog, or been owned by a cat, will likely agree. They can think, but as far as I know, not in language. But this fact makes their communication with us and other animals very fast: so fast we may not become aware that it has even taken place.

    “…understanding other people’s equivalent centre of self…” is the hard part. Far easier for one to assume that another’s reality is one’s own reality.

    It is reasonable to assume that from generation to generation in any animal species (eg giraffes, lions, koala bears) consciousness will remain constant. The exceptions can be seen around human settlements (birds teaching birds to rip open milk bottles, etc.) But the most exceptional animal species in this regard is us. With us, consciousness changes markedly and with increasing rapidity both from generation to generation and within a generation.

    This has implications.

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