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Moral Philosophy In Middlemarch By George Eliot

1159 words - 5 pages

George Eliot’s novel Middlemarch, presents the story of an entire community in a rising town around 1830. However, this essay will primarily focus on the interactions between Nicholas Bulstrode and Will Ladislaw. Nicholas Bulstrode is a respectable banker, however he made his fortune through shady business practices. On the other hand, Will Ladislaw is a struggling artist with very little to his name. Bulstrode arranges a meeting with Ladislaw shortly after Bulstrode learns that one of his former employees, Raffles, had discovered the origins of Bulstrode’s wealth and has been blackmailing him. Ladislaw’s mother, Sarah Dunkirk, ran away from her family at a young age after discovering the dark secrets of her father’s family business. After her father’s death, Sarah would have inherited some of the wealth from this business, however her mother did not know where to find her and Bulstrode saw marriage to Ladislaw’s grandmather as an opportunity to acquire all of the family’s fortune. Consequently, Bulstrode is pressured by Raffles’ knowledge of his secret and believes that he owes Ladislaw a great deal as Bulstrode essentially took Sarah’s money for his own and made no attempts to locate or assist Sarah.
This sets the stage for numerous moral dilemmas and debates, with perhaps the most central question being whether or not Ladislaw should accept the money being offered to him by Bulstrode. This essay will ultimately argue that Ladislaw should not accept Bulstrode’s money, but this raises a number of philosophical issues that need to be addressed. First, we should consider Ladislaw’s relationship with Bulstrode and whether or not he has a right to claim the money offered by Bulstrode. As outlined by The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “Rights are entitlements (not) to perform certain actions, or (not) to be in certain states; or entitlements that others (not) perform certain actions or (not) be in certain states.” Next, we need to focus on Ladislaw’s relationship with his deceased mother and the duty or “special obligation” he has to her. “The person is not free to make all of her own commitments, because the self cannot be understood separately from certain commitments, such as those arising from family or political community.” Lastly, it is important that we consider Ladislaw’s personal right to uphold his own moral standards and sense of self. The SEP provides a useful explanation, “Put most simply, to be autonomous is to be one's own person, to be directed by considerations, desires, conditions, and characteristics that are not simply imposed externally upon one, but are part of what can somehow be considered one's authentic self.”
On the surface it seems clear that Ladislaw has a right to accept the money, given that Bulstrode has essentially deprived Ladislaw of what would have been his lawful inheritance, however their relationship displays much more complexity than this. Futhermore, Bulstrode’s offer of money to...

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