Henry Fielding’s Joseph Andrews is often thought to have inaugurated a tradition of sociological observation in the novel, and it also cultivates a practice of judgment in readers. Yet the social theory that informs Fielding’s novel (Thomas Hobbes, Bernard Mandeville) is dominated by a sense of inevitability, whereas judgment concerns the things that can be otherwise. A close reading of Joseph Andrews shows that Fielding does not deploy uncritically the methods and assumptions of a nascent social theory. Rather, he teaches us that those methods and assumptions hold only for the advent of a commercial modernity that renders judgment all but obsolete. Refusing the sentimental (Richardsonian) and aesthetic (Shaftesburian) responses to this social theory as also complicit in the elision of judgment, Fielding works to transform the emerging novel into a narrative and aesthetic form capable of restoring our capacity for judgment.

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