Fielding's Moral Psychology by MORRIS GOLDEN


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Since love is the greatest good, the perversion of love (as with Wild and his Laetitia) is the worst evil, and it most denies the humanity of another as it most tortures the self. Briefly, Fielding's central vision of man as enclosed within the self, experiencing happiness or discontent exclusively within the mind, and yet needing to get out of it for the exercise of goodness, has a number of corollaries in his thought. It permeates Fielding's Page 19 epistemology and psychology, limiting both how people know the world around them and what their reactions to it will be; it tends to combine optimism about the possibilities of happiness within the mind with pessimism about the destinies of the insulated virtuous unless they are miraculously protected from the consequences of their innocence; it combines something of a deterministic approach to human character with a hope that the improvement of environment will allow cultivation of the widespread seeds of goodness.

This philosopher, I imagine, hath not had many followers in theory; and yet if we were to derive the principles of mankind from their practice, we should be almost persuaded that somewhat like this madness had possessed not only particular men, but their several orders and professions. For though they do not absolutely deny all existence to other persons and things, yet it is certain they hold them of no consequence, and little worth their consideration, unless they trench somewhat towards their own order or calling.

Fielding vacillated between them, sometimes accepting both in the same paragraph. In essence, one held that man was bad, the other that he was good. The religiously dominant puritans of the seventeenth century had insisted on the pre-eminence of grace as the only counter to man's innate depravity, and Hobbes had powerfully supported this assumption, seeing man as dominated by selfishness. Both offered the conclusion that man needed to exert his will or develop appropriate social machinery to repress the dangerous passions, which reason was unable to curb and which indeed made of reason a helpless tool.

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