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-  71   1 . The real problem of other minds George Eliot meditates on the nature of consciousness throughout her works of fiction with the insistence of a philosopher who cannot end the meditation.What does it mean to know? How does one know? What can one know? These are the questions that structure Eliot’s epistemological search, while her narratives embody their working-through. As works of biographical fiction, the novels named for characters (Adam Bede, Silas Marner, Daniel Deronda, Romola, Felix Holt) are primarily about the search for knowledge as a means of coming to self-knowledge. Middlemarch, in its representation of a community in the middle—the middle class of a mid-nineteenth-century English province—shifts the ground of the investigation , however, from “what do I know?” to “what do I know of you?”1 Descartes’ fall into radical skepticism and his ascent out of it through the claim of self-cognition enables him to assert first that he knows his mind, 1. Alan Palmer’s fine “Intermental Thought in the Novel: The Middlemarch Mind” explores how Eliot writes the community mind—the “intermental mind”—of Middlemarch by asking who constitutes this collective mind, how the rhetorical presence of this intersubjective mind works, what the judgments are of this intermental mind, and why Eliot writes a community mind—to what end are its effects on the central lives of its individual characters? “A Voice Like Music” The Problem of Other Minds and Middlemarch The breach from one mind to another is perhaps the greatest breach in nature. —William James, The Principles of Psychology Chapter 3 n Part II: George Eliot and Other-Consciousness -  72   then his body, then God, then others and the world. Descartes knows that others exist, but not how they exist as themselves, in their own minds, or even if they have minds. What might it mean to know or feel the mind of another? What does it mean that we cannot? I take these to be the central questions to follow on the heels of Descartes’ skepticism, the questions philosophers group together as “the problem of other minds.” Stanley Cavell in “Knowing and Acknowledging” defines the problem of other minds this way: “What is this ‘knowing a person’? What does it mean to say, ‘I know he is in pain,’ and how does that differ from saying, ‘I know I am in pain?’” (253–54). And: “The skeptic comes up with his scary conclusion —that we can’t know what another person is feeling because we can’t have the same feeling, feel his pain, feel it the way he feels it—and we are shocked; we must refute him, he would make it impossible ever to be attended to in the right way” (246–47). While we can’t really seriously doubt existence—that part of Descartes’ radical skepticism no longer stirs much anxiety—we continue, I think, to take seriously the post-Cartesian discovery that we can’t experience the mind of another, and so can’t know what it means to be another or to experience the world as another does or to know, in particular, another’s pain.And however disturbing that discovery leaves us, the accompanying recognition—“If I can’t experience as does another his or her mind, then neither can another experience my mind as I do and so another cannot know me or my pain as I do”—leaves us with the shock and sorrow that we may then never be, as Cavell puts it, “attended to in the right way.” To recognize the problem of other minds means to recognize that we may never know another or be known as we do ourselves. It means to acknowledge that that which enables us to know—the mind—may be that which keeps us from knowledge of and by others. It means we are divided by our minds. But why? Must we be? Explaining the phenomenon physiologically, at the space where body and mind meet, Antonio Damasio writes in The Feeling of What Happens: Life is carried out inside a boundary that defines a body. Life and the life urge exist inside a boundary, the selectively permeable wall that separates the internal environment from the external environment. The idea of the organism revolves around the existence of that boundary . . . I believe that minds and consciousness, when they eventually appeared in evolution, were first and foremost about life and the life urge within a boundary.To a great...


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