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In the early modern period, the feeling and practice of compassion were recalibrated in a pressure cooker of social, religious and political changes. The rich philosophical heritage of classical ideas about the role of pity in virtuous citizenship and prudent statesmanship and the embodied practices of late-medieval affective meditation on compassion with the suffering of Christ jostled against new contexts of civil war, colonisation and capitalism. Notions of neighbourliness, charity and compassion became elastic as communities changed shape. Much of today’s critical impatience with compassion is predicated on its failure to follow through on its rhetoric, its incapacity to practice as it preaches. Yet early modern compassion was not merely an erudite textual tradition: it was also a set of practices that took on differing importance in different social and religious groups. These practices were impacted by and in turn shaped textual representations of compassion. The chapters in this volume analyse a broad range of sources to access the interplay between texts and practice in the early modern period.
This chapter examines the role played by sermons in developing the meaning of the term sympathy in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. When sympathy first appeared in English in the mid-sixteenth century it tended to be used in its physiological sense to refer to a correspondence or harmony between people, parts of the body, objects in the cosmos or the soul and the body. In the 1580s, however, preachers began to use sympathy in a narrower sense to refer to a mutual suffering between individual selves. Drawing upon works by Edwin Sandys, William James and Henry Holland, Meek argues that sermons from this period reflect and facilitate a shift in the understanding of sympathy from the physiological to the emotional and metaphorical – and that this process existed alongside similar developments taking place in dramatic culture. Meek argues that meditations on biblical narratives and exemplars may have played a more important role in shaping the understanding of compassion in the period than humoral or medical models.
Eric Langley examines how early modern writers revisit the classically derived emblematic scenario of the shipwreck as they assess the nature of compassionate contact. In this chapter, he shows how the recurring image of the shipwreck provides insight into the extent to which vulnerability, affectivity, embeddedness or interdependence are integrated into the substructure of the subject at various historical moments. He argues that the emblem of the shipwreck is used in early modern texts, and particularly in the works of Shakespeare, to account for both the importance and cost of emotional interaction.
In his Treatise, Hume devotes significant attention to examining the passions and psychological mechanisms that support them before turning to discussion of virtue. Within the Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals (EPM), Hume drops his focus on moral psychology yet seems to maintain the views of virtue he develops within the Treatise. In this chapter I critically examine whether or not the abbreviated discussions of moral psychology within EPM can support its conception of virtue. I argue that certain aspects of Hume’s analysis of virtue within EPM depend upon features of his moral psychology, and in particular the more robust form of sympathy, that are found within the Treatise.
This chapter concerns the Aristotelian Feelings. Aristotle provides a list of the feelings in Nicomachean Ethics II 5, but he fails to give any analysis of their inner workings. For that we need to turn to Aristotle’s Rhetoric II 1-11 and passages from his de Anima. While it is a controversial matter to appeal to texts outside the Nicomachean Ethics, I argue that it is possible to draw important lessons from these texts for the interpretation of the Ethics while keeping sight of the major differences between the scope and often of the content of these different works. Two important features of the feelings that emerge from such an examination are: (1) that the feelings provide indexical insight – information about the immediate context of choice and action; and (2) that the feelings, while motivational, only get their direction from a person’s character and the particular circumstances that person is in. For example, sympathy (eleos) may motivate one to help someone in need if one is a good person, or it may motivate one to turn away, if one is a bad person.
Critics have long been puzzled by aspects of William Wordsworth’s “The Discharged Soldier” (1798), such as the abrupt opening, the soldier’s disinterest in telling his story in a genre that requires it, and the speaker’s lack of effusive sympathy. Wordsworth’s theory of desert provides a new way to understand the poem, and a key to understanding the poem’s interplay between capacity and aesthetics. The chapter focuses on the military body and, in particular, the stories about the acquisition of impairments that fictional disabled soldiers are required to tell. Disabled soldiers’ stories often make persuasive cases for desert (in that soldiers are deemed worthy of charity or reward).
This chapter examines major views of caring, compassion, and related emotional virtues, fleshing out divergences and convergences across traditions and disciplines, and exploring different understandings of their significance for education. In this chapter, views on these topics are organised in relation to their orientation toward the ‘empathy-altruism’ thesis. The empathy-altruism thesis generally contends that empathy, sympathy, compassion and the like can lead to emotional experiences of fellow feeling and positive relationality toward others, altruistic motivation, and benevolent deeds. It then follows that education should strive to cultivate these other-oriented feelings. Many philosophers, psychologists, and educators support this perspective. However, it faces challenges, also from across fields, among those who focus on the thesis’s limitations and possibly problematic educational implications. When it comes to caring, compassion, and altruism, this chapter shows that while there appears to be a consensus view on the merits of these feelings and related dispositions and actions in education and society, the blanket promotion of these emotional virtues is not altogether unproblematic. In this case, a more critical perspective on the empathy-altruism thesis is defended, as the over-optimistic view of these feelings and dispositions can fail to recognise the risks and challenges that accompany them.
This chapter examines Shakespeare’s interest in sympathy – both the word and the concept – and his representations of emotional correspondence between individuals, both real and imagined. Shakespeare’s works explore the relationship between the earlier understanding of sympathy as likeness and harmony (‘If sympathy of love unite our thoughts’ (2 Henry VI, 1.1.23)) and its newer association with ideas of compassion and commiseration (‘O what a sympathy of woe is this’ (Titus Andronicus, 3.1.148)). It is argued that Shakespeare was sceptical about the rhetorical ideal of sympathy as a straightforward or automatic process. After exploring a range of early Shakespearean texts the chapter focuses on Romeo and Juliet, which contains a notable example of the word sympathy, as the Nurse describes the shared emotions of the lovers: ‘O woeful sympathy! / Piteous predicament!’ (3.3.85-6). The fact that this speech contains some unintentional double entendres complicates both the Nurse’s sense of idealised harmony and the audience’s affective response. Shakespeare demonstrates that our commiseration for the sufferings of others is not simply the product of passive imitation or occult sympathies, but rather comes about through a combination of choice, thought, and judgement – and may differ significantly from the ‘original’ emotion being observed.
Political theorists and social scientists alike agree that passions matter for politics, but disagree about which passions matter most and how they contribute to political flourishing. I make the case that resentment, contrary to its traditional associations with violence and injustice, in fact makes us alive to the suffering of others and leads us to aid them in seeking restitution. When we adopt the resentments of others by sympathizing with them, we implicitly recognize their equal moral and political status, too, key commitments of liberalism. I argue that liberals of all stripes should embrace sympathetic resentment as a proper moral motive for justice.
Although an Anglican bishop, Joseph Butler was the first thinker in the liberal tradition to argue that resentment could be morally justifiable, specifically when it was deliberate and sympathetically experienced on behalf of another person. Contrary to his egoist predecessors and also unlike eighteenth century theorists who took human sociability to be the product of our benevolent natures, Butler believed the resentments we adopted on behalf of those familiar to us were morally good motives for action and indeed the clearest evidence of our common humanity. Butler believed our sympathetic resentment was based on our belief in the equal status of victims, too. And, finally, Butler advanced a limited view of the nature and scope of our political duties, grounded in his moral psychology.
Shakespeare’s works continually interrogate shame’s capacity both to repress the individual by reinforcing conservative social norms and to engender an enriched understanding of the self and the world. This chapter engages with critical interventions on shame by Leo Bersani, Gail Kern Paster, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick and Dan Zahavi to examine its function in a wide range of Shakespearean texts, focusing in particular on Coriolanus (1608) and the anonymously-published A Lover’s Complaint (1609). For Coriolanus, shame sparks a moment of insight in which he accepts an externalised version of himself; it provides a phenomenological experience that runs counter to his usual sense of self and to broader Roman values. In contrast, the shame of the abandoned woman in A Lover's Complaint highlights the gap between early modern ethical discourses and her own sexual and emotional experiences. In both works, however, it is the movement outside of the self that follows shame which offers the most radical and illuminating reorientation of subjectivity; this shift in perspective – inspired by love, desire and sympathy – enables characters to experience an othering of the self that is expansive rather than narcissistic.
There is no eighteenth-century moral philosopher more reknown for his work on the passions than David Hume, but political theorists have only recently began to explore Hume's myriad, important contributions to the study of moral and political motivation and obligation. The study of Hume's political thought has always been plagued by a so-called “motivational dilemma” related to his theory of justice, which suprisingly appears to rationally established. I argue in this chapter instead that the affective components of Hume's theory of justice, including his treatment of sympathetic resentment, are just as central. Hume not only builds on Butler's account of sympathy but also nuances resentment's tie to injustice, as both an alert to injury and as a motive subject to partiality. Hume explains when and why we are likely to be partial in our sympathetic resentments, as well as what kind of instutions might counteract such partiality.
Like his predecessors, Adam Smith saw the value of resentment as a motive for justice and an emotion that best captured our belief in the equality of others, but he offered the most comprehensive account of how the passion of resentment might be made into a moral (or proper) passion. Through his innovative impartial spectator theory, which explains how–and why–individuals refine their own emotions and learn to better recognize the emotions of many, varied others, Smith developed a theory of justice based on spectatorial resentment that avoided the pitfalls of partiality and while leveraging resentment's potency as a motive and intimate connection to injustice. More than any other thinker, Smith was also attuned to the psychological toll that the refinement of spectatorial resentment imposed on victims and spectators of injustice alike, however, casting his social and political theory in a somewhat tragic light. Smith thus offers a therapeutic view of religious belief as one means available to liberal citizens who must cope with lingering resentment in an unjust world.
We typically think of resentment as an unjustifiable and volatile emotion, responsible for fostering the worst political divisions. Recognizing Resentment argues instead that sympathy with the resentment of victims of injustice is vital for upholding justice in liberal societies, as it entails recognition of the equal moral and political status of those with whom we sympathize. Sympathizing with the resentment of others makes us alive to injustice in a way no rational recognition of wrongs alone can, and it motivates us to demand justice on others' behalves. This book rehabilitates arguments for the moral and political worth of resentment developed by three influential thinkers in the early liberal tradition - Joseph Butler, David Hume, and Adam Smith - and uses these to advance a theory of spectatorial resentment, discussing why we should be indignant about the injustice others face, and how such a shared sentiment can actually bring liberal citizens closer together.
This essay reads Nineteen Eighty-Four in the historical context of the refugee crises that occurred during the early twentieth century and argues that the novel explores how ethical compassion towards the plight of refugees might be cultivated. In the totalitarian state of Oceania, regimes of racist nationalism and economic scarcity are enforced in order to scapegoat foreigners as threats, as Orwell draws attention to political systems responsible for fostering hostility towards outsiders and strangers. In doing so, Nineteen Eighty-Four suggests that compassionate and sympathetic responses to the spectacle of refugee suffering are neither innate nor pre-given in human beings, but are instead shaped by the socio-political systems we inhabit. Nineteen Eighty-Four thus remains highly relevant to the migration crises that are still very much part of our contemporary moment.
This chapter argues that eighteenth-century moral philosophers, divines, and literati almost unanimously agreed that theism is necessary to sustain community and social stability. With this correlation in place, atheists were routinely denied the capacity for human sympathy. To make this case, the chapter focuses on two midcentury novels by Sarah Fielding: The Adventures of David Simple (1744) and its sequel, Volume the Last (1753). In these fictions, Fielding employs atheism to explore both the limits of modern selfhood and the limits of literary representation. Alongside eighteenth-century moral philosophers like John Locke, Shaftesbury, and Lord Kames, whom I examine in the chapter’s first section, Fielding casts the atheist as the fundamental incarnation of a completely autonomous self. More to the point, she insists that that self is incapable of integrating successfully into a wider community defined by developing notions of civility, sociability, and fellow feeling.
Although there were no self-avowed British atheists before the 1780s, authors including Jonathan Swift, Alexander Pope, Sarah Fielding, Phebe Gibbes, and William Cowper worried extensively about atheism's dystopian possibilities, and routinely represented atheists as being beyond the pale of human sympathy. Challenging traditional formulations of secularization that equate modernity with unbelief, Reeves reveals how reactions against atheism rather helped sustain various forms of religious belief throughout the Age of Enlightenment. He demonstrates that hostility to unbelief likewise produced various forms of religious ecumenicalism, with authors depicting non-Christian theists from around Britain's emerging empire as sympathetic allies in the fight against irreligion. Godless Fictions in the Eighteenth Century traces a literary history of atheism in eighteenth-century Britain for the first time, revealing a relationship between atheism and secularization far more fraught than has previously been supposed.
This introduction demonstrates atheism’s centrality in eighteenth-century British culture, and it illustrates the paradoxical ways in which atheism’s presence in the period’s literature was meant to prevent its presence in the real world. The chapter charts the history of British thinking about unbelief throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries before arguing that fictional depictions of atheism as repulsive and unsympathetic gave rise to a unique form of believing selfhood, one defined not by creeds and doctrines but by affective rejections of unbelief. Moreover, the association of belief with sociability, and atheism with selfishness, led authors like Jonathan Swift, Alexander Pope, Sarah Fielding, Phebe Gibbes, and William Cowper to create ecumenical fantasies in which theists around the globe unite to curb atheism’s spread. These fictions nuance our understanding of secularization, demonstrating how atheism’s relationship to modernity is more fraught than is typically acknowledged, and revealing the profound role imaginative literature has played in sustaining belief.
This chapter argues that Jonathan Swift’s satires depict godless worlds dominated by atheists. First, I provide brief readings of the “Ode to the Athenian Society” (1692), The Sentiments of a Church-of-England Man (1708), the “Letter to a Young Gentleman, Lately entered into Holy Orders” (1720), and Swift’s published sermons. Then, I demonstrate how Swift’s major satires oppose atheism not by arguing against it but by paradoxically taking its premises for granted. A Tale of a Tub (1704), the Argument Against Abolishing Christianity (1708), Gulliver’s Travels (1726), and A Modest Proposal (1729), for instance, all present counterfactual, dystopian worlds in which all reality is reducible to matter alone. I conclude the chapter by arguing that, when atheism is Swift’s satiric target, his satires demonstrate a considerable amount of compassion and understanding for groups he typically presents as detestable. From the Turks of An Argument Against Abolishing Christianity, to the Irish Catholics of A Modest Proposal, to the Jews, Turks, and “Bonzes in China” of Mr C-Ns’s Discourse, atheism incites Swift to abandon his animosity against various religious groups and social classes.
This chapter documents an 1810–1811 epistolary prank in which Percy Shelley outlined his atheistic creed to a completely befuddled correspondent. As this exchange makes clear, Shelley’s writings against theism are attempts to counter dominant eighteenth-century perceptions of unbelief. Indeed, the poet’s letters indicate the influence such perceptions maintained well into the nineteenth century and beyond. Shelley’s promotion of atheism relies not only on logical arguments he derived from previous freethinkers and religious radicals. It also depends on his appropriation and rewriting of the various stereotypes of atheism produced throughout the preceding century. If atheists in the eighteenth century were imagined as selfish, unsociable, and incapable of sensibility, Shelley flipped the script by casting such aspersions on theists themselves.