Philosophy And Novels

Tyler Cowen mentions that he will be discussing “scarcity and the novel” at a symposium that David Levy has organized “on how proverbs, maxims, and novels contain wisdom of a kind comparable to the wisdom found in models.”

I have one example of this that I wish I had time to research. In Pride and Prejudice, when Lady Catherine de Bourgh has finished dressing down Elizabeth and refusing her consent to marriage to Darcy (“are the shades of Pemberley to be thus polluted?” is a priceless line), Elizabeth says

I am only resolved to act in that manner, which will, in my own opinion, constitute my happiness, without reference to you, or to any person so wholly unconnected with me.

This meaty quote raises a lot of questions: what is Austen’s conception of happiness? How does Austen form her conception of the role of social networks and relationships in individual happiness? Who is Austen reading that gives her the intellectual fodder to develop this conception? There’s a lot in 18th-century philosophy that bears directly on this articulation of Elizabeth’s life vision, and I’m just not familiar enough with it to make a persuasive case.

I welcome any thoughts and suggestions on this matter. I am sure Austen was reading Hume, and this resonates with a lot of Hume to my ear. But what about the later guys, like Godwin? What about Rousseau (scary thought, but … one of Elizabeth’s charms is that she is natural and unaffected, which smacks of Rousseau)?

BTW, I highly recommend anything that Tyler Cowen writes to any and all.