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The Rhetoric of Error from Locke to Kleist$
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Zachary Sng

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9780804770170

Published to Stanford Scholarship Online: June 2013

DOI: 10.11126/stanford/9780804770170.001.0001

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The Madness of the Middle

The Madness of the Middle

(p.106) Four The Madness of the Middle
The Rhetoric of Error from Locke to Kleist
Stanford University Press

This chapter examines the significance of error in Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's novel of subject-formation, The Apprenticeship of Wilhelm Meister, in which he claims in relation to Bildung that knowledge is attained when error cancels itself out through further errance. Both teacher and pupil are then required to let error run its course and complete its work of self-correction. The chapter analyzes this understanding of error in connection with Aristotle's concept of the virtuous middle and its influence on Adam Smith's arguments on sympathy. The theatricality of Smith's moral sentiments highlights two forms of the middle—moderation and mediality—that work in harmony to give rise to the possibility of sympathy. However, Smith also insists that fashion and utility adversely affect judgment, implying a middle associated with a certain mechanistic efficacy and momentum which disrupts the relationship between means and ends, particular and general.

Keywords:   error, Goethe, Wilhelm Meister, knowledge, errance, self-correction, Aristotle, middle, Adam Smith, sympathy

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