Doubting If Doubt Itself Be Doubting

Maurice S. Lee

in Uncertain Chances

Published in print December 2011 | ISBN: 9780199797578
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199932412 | DOI:
Doubting If Doubt Itself Be Doubting

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This chapter shows how Melville continued to explore chance after Moby-Dick, especially as Pierre and “Bartleby, the Scrivener” take up the challenge up moral action under conditions of causal uncertainty. Melville’s suspension of judgment regarding chance proves as radical as any political position he might take, and it moves him toward a pragmatism that, more than anything in William James, dwells on the tragic potential of willing to believe. A key concept in this chapter is the paradox of “Buridan’s Ass,” a problem confronted by philosophers from classical skeptics through Montaigne and Bayle to Jonathan Edwards and Spinoza. If Moby-Dick elaborates on the philosophical and theological implications of chance, Melville’s later work is more committed to the moral and aesthetic consequences of acknowledging—or refusing to acknowledge—chance’s power.

Keywords: Herman Melville; Pierre; “Bartleby”; William James; moral action

Chapter.  10169 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (19th Century)

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