Committing freedom: The cultivation of judgment in Rousseau's Emile and Austen's Pride and Prejudice

Vivasvan Soni*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


This essay examines two texts that not only diagnose a constitutive crisis of judgment in modernity but also seek to describe alternative practices that might restore a relative autonomy to judgment: Rousseau's Emile and Austen's Pride and Prejudice. One of the crucial challenges that Rousseau's Emile confronts is how to cultivate in children a capacity for autonomous judgment. However, the solution the text offers-eradicating the fictive grounds of judgment or redeploying them surreptitiously-replicates the very crisis of judgment it identifies. By contrast, Austen's Pride and Prejudice insists on the necessity of a certain fictioning or imaginative capacity for the practice of good judgment. The phenomenology of judgment Pride and Prejudice offers, when it describes the process by which Lizzie changes her mind after reading Darcy's letter, points the way out of the impasse in Rousseau's text between a judgment so tethered to empirical details that it has no freedom to reflect and a wildly fictive judgment based on inflexible norms that have no relation to the world they presume to judge. The injunction to "second reading" (a distinctively novelistic mode of reading) in Pride and Prejudice is neither a demand for a more vigilant empiricism nor for a normalizing pedagogy; the need for "second reading" acknowledges the co-constitutive nature of fiction and empiricism for good judgment. Austen articulates the possibility of a judgment that can be autonomous and still embrace determinacy and commitment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)363-387
Number of pages25
JournalEighteenth Century
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2010


  • Austen
  • Autonomy
  • Empiricism
  • Fiction
  • Freedom
  • Judgment
  • Novel
  • Rousseau

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • General Arts and Humanities


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