Mike W. Martin

in Meaningful Work

Published in print March 2000 | ISBN: 9780195133257
Published online October 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780199848706 | DOI:

Series: Practical and Professional Ethics


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Self-betrayal might be a single self-destructive act, perhaps a white-collar crime, that is easily describable in a case-study vignette of the sort familiar in professional ethics. More often, it is a gradual process of erosion of ideals involving both personal and professional life, an erosion whose full delineation would require the narrative skills and psychological insight of a gifted novelist such as George Eliot. Eliot's Middlemarch is a novel about integrating work and love, vocation and marriage. This chapter discusses failures of realism in pursuing high personal ideals, along with corruption of ideals through combinations of egotism and purposeful self-deception. It also explores the regrets, shame, and guilt experienced as the characters become aware of their self-betrayal. Throughout, it seeks to elucidate and expand Eliot's moral psychology as it helps us understand how egotism and illusions undermine vocations and threaten self-respect. More broadly, it illustrates the important role fiction has in exploring personal commitments in professional ethics, as does biography, autobiography, and film.

Keywords: George Eliot; Middlemarch; self-betrayal; personal ideals; professional ethics; professional life; work; vocation; realism; moral psychology

Chapter.  6179 words. 

Subjects: Moral Philosophy

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