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Book Chapter

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Jane Austen's "Emma:" Philosophical Perspectives

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Oxford Studies In Philosophy And Literature


Philosophers concerned with self-understanding have often conceived of it as either a matter of immediate, unchallengeable introspective awareness or as a matter of gathering evidence about oneself scientifically and impersonally. In contrast, Gilbert Ryle rightly understood self-understanding as knowledge of one’s own commitments, desires, beliefs, wishes, and fears––all things that one has some share in forming and can to some extent alter. What Ryle misses or underplays, however, is the extent to which the forming and revising of commitments, desires, beliefs, wishes, and fears are also social processes, as agents-in-formation are subject to the gazes, expectations, and evaluations of others. Jane Austen grasped all this very well, and in Emma she gives us a picture of Emma’s partial, emotion-laden, and socially inflected—but also genuine—achievement of self-understanding from which we might do well to learn.


self-understanding, introspection, evidence, Ryle, emotion, social, Austen, Wollheim

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Oxford University Press


E. M. Dadlez


This material was originally published in Jane Austen's Emma: Philosophical Perspectives edited by E.M. Dadlez, and has been reproduced by permission of Oxford University Press. For permission to reuse this material, please visit

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