The Outlines of Skepticism: The Problem of Moral Authority in Early Modern England Public Deposited

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  • March 22, 2019
  • Caldwell, Melissa Martha
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of English and Comparative Literature
  • In this dissertation, I examine the value of skepticism to writers interested in what were competing and even contradictory projects: reform and orthodoxy. Focusing on the work of Thomas More, Richard Hooker, Thomas Nashe, and John Milton, I examine how these writers engaged with skeptical thought in order to respond to the decentering of moral authority caused by the Protestant Reformation. Writing within a context in which moral certainty could no longer be located dogmatically, and in which the individual interpretation of texts in a new era of print culture further destabilized moral authority, these writers reassess the moral value of language and test its potential to regulate the experience of reading. I argue that it is their engagement with skepticism rather than their denial of it that allows these writers to stabilize moral authority by generating didactic texts to replace dogmatic ones as a source of normative moral knowledge. By expanding current critical formulations of early modern skepticism, this dissertation offers a fuller account of skepticism's history and examines the relationship between epistemology and ethics in the early modern period. More largely, this dissertation suggests that the reconstitution of ethical value through literary modes represents complex responses to epistemic growth and limitation.
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  • Barbour, Reid
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  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • Open access

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