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paradigm of intellectual energy as a ¬eld of power.
Like the other writers examined here, Hazlitt™s writing inhabits a twi-
light world which is neither ˜in™ knowledge nor entirely beyond it; often
±°·
Hazlitt™s immanent idealism
indifferent to matters of truth, but not so insouciant as its ontological
rhetoric would suggest. Hazlitt™s notion of ˜power™ has been discussed
extensively over the years. Its epistemological import, however, remains
ambiguous. In Hazlitt and the Reach of Sense, Uttara Natarajan argues that
the traditional view of Hazlitt as an empiricist needs to be replaced by
an account which does greater justice to his essentially idealist theo-
ries of power. In this, the ˜continuity between the metaphysician and the
essayist™ consists in ˜an understanding of power as epistemological: power
is the mind™s formative ability™. Natarajan has no doubt that power is
deployed in the service of knowledge and truth-apprehension, even if,
for Hazlitt, this can only be effected through powerful poetry, such as
that of Milton, which ˜shows the truth that rises above the material or
matter-of-fact™.±° The proposition that all truth amounts to matter of
fact certainly troubles Hazlitt, no less than the other Romantics. Yet like
Wordsworth, he found it impossible to shake. In ˜On the Prose-Style of
Poets™, indeed, he elevates the prose-writer™s dedication to ˜dry matters
of fact and close reasoning™ over the poet™s immersion in sensual ap-
pearances, citing Burke as an example of a writer guided by ˜truth, not
beauty “ not pleasure, but power™.±± Power™s ambivalence between the
ideal truth of poetry and the empirical truth of prose represents Hazlitt™s
own attempt to reunite the realms of fact and value. It is the impossibility
of this (within an empirical method of veri¬cation: the only one avail-
able to Hazlitt) which provokes in Hazlitt a fundamental reassessment
of the location of knowledge itself in human life, and a corresponding
reaction against epistemology which already lurks in his weary aside to-
wards the end of the Essay that ˜Metaphysics themselves are but a dry
romance™.± At this point, power emerges as an anti-epistemic principle
which, through the agency of the ˜exaggerating and exclusive faculty™
of imagination, threatens to replace knowing as the primary mode of
human engagement with the world.± In Hazlitt™s writing, then, power is
two-faced, on one side grounding an epistemology of ˜ideal™ truth, and
on the other challenging epistemology™s very conception of knowledge
as something grounded in truth “ and thereby ˜knowledge™ itself.
The roots of this ambivalence lie with Hazlitt™s original philosophi-
cal interests in questions of personal identity and practical reason. He
regarded with impatience the attempts of certain strands of contempo-
rary moral philosophy, in¬‚uenced by Hobbes, Hume and Priestley, to
explain human action as fundamentally egoistic, self-interested, or de-
termined by association and habit “ or indeed, as in some way reducible
to a combination of these principles. To Hazlitt, each of these theories
(no matter how humanistic in spirit) explained the fundamental springs
±° Knowledge and Indifference in English Romantic Prose
of human action at the cost of excluding the possibility of moral, that
is, disinterested deliberation. The reason for this, he came to decide, was
that they took as their starting-point empirical psychology™s causal and
mechanistic explanation of perception: if the mind was to be free to make
genuinely moral choices in its practical deliberations, then its knowledge
of those opportunities could not be determined by passively received
sensory input. In other words, it must be capable of some kind of inde-
pendent epistemic construction: it must have a creative function. In the
act of moral imagination, as Hazlitt puts it in the Essay on the Principles
of Human Action, the agent ˜creates the object, he pushes his ideas beyond
the bounds of his memory and senses [. . .]™.±
After the Essay, the notion of the ˜formative™ mind, and with it the
concept of epistemic creation, or the thesis that truth is made and not
found, became increasingly important to his thought on a more general
level. Like many Romantic writers, however, Hazlitt was confronted with
the problem of how to communicate this creativity. As a prose writer, he
was intensely aware of how, just as logic represses rhetoric to the point of
betraying its own metaphors, so self-conscious ¬guration can betray the
desire for truth in its repression of argument. Thus, while Wordsworth
attempted to reconcile these forces through a poetic para-philosophy of
dialectical consciousness, in Hazlitt™s work the middle way between a
value- or fact-driven approach to life lies in the tension between the way
in which his prose ¬gures itself as factual (a medium of molten metal or
liquid marble±µ ) and its logocentric pursuit of philosophical argument.
Of the latter, one of the most important instances is what might be
called his argument from abstraction. This is a good example of how
Hazlitt remained epistemologically empiricist while appearing to be
metaphysically idealist (hence his consistent opposition to materialism:
the life of the mind, Hazlitt declared, was just as much a constitutive part
of reality as matter itself ). More importantly, the constraints of empiricism
meant that Hazlitt™s idealism was never to escape the Lockean identi¬-
cation of justi¬cation with causation. Consequently, epistemic creation
remained a problem and a paradox for Hazlitt because he thought of it
as an event which occurred between things rather than within a concep-
tual space. The result was a kind of immanent idealism, an intensi¬cation
of Hume™s notion of the projective power of the mind which nonetheless
struggled to ˜ground™ itself. His conviction that knowledge was at least
in part creative was thus stymied by his own attempts to contain crea-
tion through epistemic theories of common sense, association, and the
self-verifying faculty of reasoning imagination. His argument, against
±°
Hazlitt™s immanent idealism
Coleridge, that knowledge of the absolute was impossible was not, as
some have suggested, a proto-Kantian position, but the product of an
ambivalence within his own theory of knowledge.
This in turn led to a watershed in his thinking about knowledge. Hazlitt
came to the conclusion that if empirical epistemology could not sanction
the creative activities of the moral imagination, then there was something
incomplete in epistemology itself. The conventional notion of knowledge
was to be changed for one of power: it was power which, at the most
fundamental level, guided our moral existence, and wrought the highest
achievements of art and poetry. It is, then, the rebellious dependency
upon empiricism of Hazlitt™s immanent idealism which conditions much
of his writing, and it is the resort to power and ambivalent retreat from
˜knowledge™ as such which distinguishes Hazlitt™s theory most markedly
from the absolute idealism of Coleridge. In ˜On Novelty and Familiarity™,
he maintains that ˜[k]nowledge is power™, and that ˜[w]e are happy not
in the total amount of our knowledge, but in the [. . .] removal of some
obstacle [. . .]™.± In this way, Hazlitt continues the Romantic negotiation
of Hume™s fact/value dichotomy, cultivating an indifference to knowl-
edge which betrays a compulsive attachment to truth, as when he urges,
in ˜The Spirit of Philosophy™, that ˜common sense™ be taken as ˜the foun-
dation of truest philosophy™.±·

 ©®  ® ¤  ©  ®
By endeavouring to establish the autonomy of the creative mind while
negotiating the boundaries of empiricism. Hazlitt tends to steer between
two answers: one cognitive and epistemological, concerned with validat-
ing the mind™s productions according to a given standard of knowledge,
and the other, what I have chosen to term non-cognitive or ˜indifferent,™
resting upon an assertion of the priority of power. These often overlap
and merge with each other, but it is important to bear in mind that they
are very different responses to the problem. The ¬rst tack of argument
can be traced to Hazlitt™s response to the debate which had circulated
between Locke, Berkeley and Hume about the nature of general or ab-
stract ideas. This sprang from a perplexing question: namely, how does
one form an idea of something for which there does not seem to be a
corresponding particular object?
The origins of this dif¬culty lay in the corpuscularianism of Locke. If, as
he claimed, the objective world consisted in an arrangement of atoms, or
particles, our perception of that reality must also be particular. Yet we are
±±° Knowledge and Indifference in English Romantic Prose
undeniably in possession of certain concepts “ being, man, triangularity,
and the like “ which seem to resist reduction to such atomistic principles.
Locke™s explanation of this in the Essay is that an abstract idea is one
˜wherein some parts of several different and inconsistent Ideas are put
together™. The result of this, however, is that we are required to entertain
the notion of a resulting idea which is both particular and general; one
which retains the qualities of the members of the class it represents ˜but
all and none of these at once™. Thus, Locke concludes that we have a
stock of abstract ideas which exceed what is actually ˜out there™ in the
world: ˜general Ideas™, he admits, ˜are Fictions and Contrivances of the
Mind™, which, though of some practical use as a kind of representational
shorthand, ˜are marks of our Imperfection™.±
To Berkeley, as well as to Hume after him, Locke™s discomfort with
the question of abstraction was symptomatic of a deeper inconsistency
in his thought regarding human knowledge, and in particular his failure
to take corpuscularianism to its logical conclusion: namely, that all our
knowledge is con¬ned to particulars. Abstract ideas, then, are not the
result of words being made the signs of general ideas (since there are no
such things as irreducibly general ideas). Instead, ˜an idea, which consid-
ered in itself is particular, becomes general, by being made to represent
or stand for all other particular ideas of the same sort™.± Abstraction is
an entirely nominal affair. For Berkeley, it is impossible to conceive of
something without the sensation of it: therefore, as all our sensations are
representations, it is also quite impossible for us to frame a coherent no-
tion of ˜things-as-they-are™ as distinct from ˜things-as-appearances™. From
this it follows, not that we are disconnected from the real world, as in
Locke, but that the ˜real world™ just is a world of appearances. Objects are
entirely phenomenal: ˜Their esse is percepi, nor is it possible they should
have any existence, out of the minds of thinking beings which perceive
them.™° For Berkeley, then, the impossibility of abstracting single, gen-
eral qualities from a qualitatively mixed objective world demonstrates
the error of supposing that that world has a material foundation, and
shows the dichotomy between Locke™s so-called primary (inherent) and
secondary (mind-dependent) qualities in objects to be a false one.
Berkeley™s argument is underwritten by a providential epistemology
whereby the veracity of perception is ultimately guaranteed by God, a
˜spirit in¬nitely wise, good and powerful™.± This, however, was insuf¬cient
for Hume, for whom the rejection of Lockean abstraction meant the
forfeiture of important concepts such as those of identity, substance, and
causation. In particular, this last idea, in the scienti¬c form of ˜necessary
±±±
Hazlitt™s immanent idealism
connexion™, is undermined by the principle “ to which both Hume and
Berkeley subscribe “ ˜that all ideas are copy™d from impressions™. There is no
impression conveyed by the senses which can give rise to such an idea:

It must, therefore, be deriv™d from some internal impression, or impression
of re¬‚exion [. . .]. This therefore is the essence of necessity. Upon the whole,
necessity is something, that exists in the mind, not in objects; nor is it possible
for us ever to form the most distant idea of it, consider™d as a quality in bodies.
Either we have no idea of necessity, or necessity is nothing but that determination
of the thought to pass from causes to effects and from effects to causes, according
to their experienc™d union.

For Hume, if all knowledge is con¬ned to impressions, and the con-
nection of these is a contingent affair of association, then the concept of
necessity itself must be a creation of the imagination: the human mind,
somehow, projects these qualities onto the object. As he notes soon after:
˜ ™Tis a common observation, that the mind has a great propensity to
spread itself on external objects, and to conjoin with them any internal
impressions, which they occasion™, adding that ˜the same propensity is
the reason, why we suppose necessity and power to lie in the objects
we consider, not in our mind, that considers them [. . .]™. As a result,
moreover, the concept of necessary obligation or absolute moral law,
cognizable by reason, all but vanishes. Moral judgements are funda-
mentally judgements of utility, and moral approval or disapproval, just
like aesthetic response, is an internal movement of sympathetic pleasure
or displeasure based upon this principle. Even justice is ˜a moral virtue,
merely because it has that tendency to the good of mankind [. . .]™.µ
It was against this background that the issue of abstraction came to
Hazlitt™s attention as informing some of the principal problems in moral
philosophy, as well as epistemology. But while Berkeley and Hume had
agreed, contra Locke, that this was a nominal matter, Hazlitt, in what he
considered to be his great discovery, took another tack: all ideas were
abstract. They had to be, he claimed, given that nature was in¬nitely di-
visible, and the mind was a ¬nite entity. He accepted the corpuscularian
view of nature, but denied that it applied to perception: all our percep-
tions were general or abstract by virtue of the fact that the particular
object, as such, was forever beyond our reach. At this point, Hume™s
view of the cognitive function of imagination takes on an immense im-
portance for Hazlitt. As this story goes, the mind projects completion, or
generality, onto a world of which it can never receive a full represen-
tation. But while this led Hume to make sceptical inferences about our
±± Knowledge and Indifference in English Romantic Prose
scienti¬c and practical reasoning, to Hazlitt it betokened the mind™s power
to create a valid set of standards for knowledge and moral conduct.·
Hazlitt™s argument, as laid out in the lecture ˜On Abstract Ideas™ (which
appeared as part of the series of Lectures on English Philosophy delivered in
the spring of ±±) proceeds on the following lines: since ˜all our notions
from ¬rst to last, are strictly speaking, general and abstract™, and abstrac-
tion itself is ˜a consequence of the limitation of the comprehensive faculty™
when confronted with the world™s in¬nite plurality of qualities, then no-
tions themselves are radically incomplete. As Hazlitt puts it, ˜[e]very
idea of an object is, therefore, in a strict sense an imperfect and general
notion of an aggregate [. . .]™. All knowledge, therefore, necessarily has
a vagueness or haziness about it, resulting from this indeterminacy: ˜the
real foundation of all our knowledge™, Hazlitt continues, is ˜a mere con-
fused impression or effect of feeling produced by a number of things
[. . .]™. The undermining of epistemic foundations will later lead to a
reappraisal of the centrality of knowledge as such. At this stage, however,
Hazlitt retains a con¬dence in the project of epistemology. For the epis-
temic de¬cit which he describes, though never recovered, itself testi¬es to
the hidden activity of the mind in shaping knowledge as a whole. Every
idea of a sensible quality ˜implies the same power of generalisation™.°
It is for this reason that Hazlitt, in the Preface to his abridgement of
Tucker™s Light of Nature Pursued, describes the species of philosophy which
˜endeavours to discover what the mind is, by looking into the mind itself ™,
as ˜the only philosophy that is ¬t for men of sense™. He designates this
as the ˜intellectual™, as opposed to the ˜material™ philosophy.± His de¬-
nition is not precise. Thus, the interests of the intellectual philosophy lie
with what is attributable to feeling, rather than the mere understanding:
it concerns itself with consciousness, not experiment. What encourages
Hazlitt in this loose characterization is the fact that the psychological pro-
cesses surrounding feeling, sympathy and consciousness itself, are vague
and imprecise in a way similar to how he envisages that of abstraction.
It therefore might seem to be a very short step from this to assert that
man™s emotional nature; his feelings and his sympathies, are implicated
in the acquisition and veri¬cation of knowledge. Moreover, Hazlitt™s use
of consciousness to merge the separate questions of truth and reality tends
to promote a form of immanent idealism which de¬nes itself against
a metaphysical adversary (materialism), rather than an epistemological
one (empiricism), and which characterizes the mind in terms of power,
rather than receptivity. This last point will be examined later.
±±
Hazlitt™s immanent idealism
Hazlitt™s theory of abstraction is a revealing example of Romantic
epistemological ambivalence. Viewed from a modern perspective, his
critique of Locke and Hume™s picture of a mind always passive to the
˜givenness™ of the raw particularity of sense-experience is quite consonant
with more recent attacks mounted by Sellars and Davidson, among oth-
ers, upon the empiricist™s dualism of sense-data and conceptual scheme.
By arguing that all ideas are general or abstract, he refuses empiricism™s
idea of knowledge as resting upon a foundation, that is, a correspondence
between ideas in the mind and ˜given™ reality; or to put it in more modern
terms, between conceptual scheme and bare, uninterpreted sense-
content. Like Wordsworth™s poetic truth, then, Hazlitt™s abstract knowing
is an attempt to cross Hume™s Fork. By designating all knowledge as ab-
stract, he erases ˜fact™ as foundational. In this manner he moves towards
a position not unlike Sellars™ argument against the sense-datum theorist™s
scheme of raw sensation existing antecedently to rationalization or in-
terpretation. For Sellars, ˜in characterizing an episode or a state as that
of knowing, we are not giving an empirical description of that episode or
state; we are placing it in the logical space of reasons, of justifying and
being able to justify what one says™. Accordingly, his contention that
˜the idea that epistemic facts can be analyzed without remainder “ even
“in principle” “ into non-epistemic facts [ . . . is] a radical mistake [. . .].™ is
comparable in its general outlook to Hazlitt™s claim for the irreducibility
of abstract knowledge to particular sensations.
Indeed, in his New and Improved Grammar of the English Tongue (±°),
Hazlitt appears to go further still by severing linguistic categories from
the world of things. Tooke, he maintains, failed to see that the corollary
of his own observation that words do not univerally correspond to things
was not his further argument that words, rather than ideas, were the signs
of impressions.µ This merely reverses the priority between language and
psyche. Rather, Hazlitt, maintains, Tooke™s original observation betokens
the complete elision of word and object: ˜the grammatical distinctions
of words do not relate to the nature of the things or ideas spoken of, but
to our manner of speaking of them, i.e. to the particular point of view
in which we have occasion to consider them [. . .]™. Severing the causal
relationship between signi¬er and signi¬ed allows Hazlitt to postulate
that signi¬cation is not something ˜given™, but testi¬es to the mind™s
complex activity in the creation of meaning. As Natarajan observes, for
Hazlitt ˜[s]yntactical structure [. . .] is a holistic expression of the mind;
thus, it is also the index of its formative ability™.
±± Knowledge and Indifference in English Romantic Prose
Crucially, however, the division between word and object, linguistic
scheme and content, remained a problem, albeit one which the thesis of the
˜formative mind™ was designed to answer. Natarajan describes how ˜[i]n
the best case [. . .] the dualism of factual and imaginative reality contains
not a dichotomy, but a transformation, of sensory into imaginative per-
ception; the former limited and passive, the latter empowered and consti-
tutive™. But this remains only a ˜best case™, an exception, for only in poetry
is ˜the power of the speaking subject [. . .] so magni¬ed that it bridges
the gulf between word and thing, and so wipes out the arbitrariness
of connection between signi¬er and signi¬ed™.· Viewed from this angle,
Hazlitt™s anti-foundational turn appears less radical, and his proximity to
Locke more prominent. For Sellars and Davidson, rejection of the con-
cept/content distinction fatally undermined the representational view
of perception itself, and ¬nally brought to an end the empiricist™s story
of knowledge as ˜confrontation™ of mind with a theory-neutral reality.
Confrontationalism was what Davidson termed, extending Quine™s la-
belling of veri¬cationism and the analytic/synthetic divide, as ˜the third
dogma™ of empiricism, adding: ˜The third, and perhaps the last, for
if we give it up it is not clear that there is anything distinctive left to
call empiricism.™ Once the image of justi¬ed belief as scheme/reality
correspondence was removed, the very notion of ˜scheme™ becomes in-
distinguishable from language itself. Consequently, Sellars and Davidson
are agreed that, in Sellars™ words, ˜all awareness of abstract entities [. . .]
is a linguistic affair™. Beyond this there seems no need for empiricism,
or indeed, for ˜epistemology™ as such.
Hazlitt, on the other hand, remains true to empiricism™s notion of
correspondence in a way which comes to defeat the radical force of his
theory of abstraction. Crucially, he retained from Locke a rei¬ed view of
knowing as consisting in a relation between persons and objects rather
than between persons and sentences. Consequently, like most eighteenth-
century empiricists, he construed ˜knowledge of ™ as prior to ˜knowledge
that™, or to put it in Bertrand Russell™s terms, ˜knowledge by acquain-
tance™ as prior to ˜knowledge by description™. Direct acquaintance with
objects forms the foundation of thought for Hazlitt, and no less so be-
cause, just as with Locke and Hume, these objects “ ˜ideas™ “ are psychical
rather than physical entities. Hazlitt™s abstract idea, though always
already evaluative, is not irreducibly linguistic. We consider ideas via lan-
guage, he maintains, because language remains a medium for knowledge: it
is not knowledge itself. Accordingly, he digs at Tooke for his wasted labour
deconstructing abstract ideas according to their etymological roots, given
±±µ
Hazlitt™s immanent idealism
that ˜he has brought ,°°° instances of the meaning of words to demon-
strate that we have no abstract ideas, not one of which ,°°° meanings
is any thing else but an abstract idea™. ˜Logic and metaphysics™, Hazlitt
concludes, ˜are the weak sides of his reasoning.™° Explanations of how
knowledge is justi¬ed remain for Hazlitt equivalent to explanations of
how knowledge is caused. It comes as no surprise, then, that so long as
this dualism remains in place, its inversion, entailing the reversal of the em-
pirical account of the causal process of perception through the Kantian
notion of the ˜formative mind™, increasingly appears as the solution to
its ills of scepticism and determinism.
Even here, however, the Kantian turn can be deceptive. Framing the
˜Copernican revolution™ with its transcendental idealism of noumenal
and phenomenal realms in the Critique of Pure Reason is a transcendental
argument which for the ¬rst time proposes that knowledge is grounded
not in things, but in propositions; namely, those propositions which Kant
sees as expressing the principles of the possibility of experience itself.
There is, however, no such purely conceptual meta-framework in Hazlitt.
His idealism remains immanent within empiricism™s dualism of subject
and object, and his potentially subversive theory of creative abstraction
stymied by a foundationalism of fact over value. This facet of Hazlitt™s
thinking, an eighteenth-century inheritance which he shares with
Wordsworth, cannot be stressed too much, for it is what precipitates the
later estrangement of knowledge.
More immediately for Hazlitt, however, the motivation for pursuing
the theory of abstraction lies in his determination to secure a viable
theory of moral disinterestedness, one which, as Paulin notes, had its
roots in a nonconformist upbringing. ˜The whole weight of Unitarian
culture™, Paulin claims, ˜as well as Francis Hutcheson™s philosophy [. . .]
shapes this rejection of Hobbesian sel¬shness™.± Hazlitt, however, is not
concerned to prove that human beings have an innate sense of morality:
merely that, the possibility of self-interested action being admitted, that
of disinterested action must follow. His argument in the Essay to the effect
that the self-interested impulse shares a common psychological basis with
that of disinterestedness “ that being, the creation of the idea (respect-
ively, of a future state, or the well being of another) whose origination is
irreducible to either memory or the mechanism of empirical perception “
depends upon the notion of a projective, sympathetic imagination.
Hazlitt has accepted Hume™s argument that empiricism alone cannot
sustain the notion of moral obligation, but turns this into a question of
the adequacy of empiricism itself: as empirical cognitive processes are
±± Knowledge and Indifference in English Romantic Prose
insuf¬cient for moral action (indeed, action in general), then ipso facto
there must be some other process to account for it:

For there is no faculty in the mind by which future impressions can excite in it
a presentiment of themselves in the same way that past impressions act upon it
by means of memory. When we say that future objects act upon the mind by
means of the imagination, it is not meant that such objects exercise a real power
over the imagination, but merely that it is by means of this faculty that we can
forsee the probable or necessary consequences of things, and are interested in
them.

The philosopher A. C. Grayling suggests that the Essay presents a tran-
scendental argument, that is, one which demonstrates the conditions for
something to be possible. In effect, Grayling claims, Hazlitt™s argument
stipulates that in all practical reasoning any self-interested justi¬cation
for action presupposes the equal validity of a disinterested justi¬cation,
in that ˜the capacity to think about one™s future self requires that one
be able to think about other selves in general™. This logical equivalence
means that a key premise of Hazlitt™s argument must be (as Grayling
believes it is) ˜that one™s future self, is, literally as well as logically speak-
ing, another self™. Grayling thus characterizes the main thrust of the
Essay as an analytic (or more speci¬cally, a transcendental) demonstra-
tion of the incoherence of a system of practical reason which bases itself
exclusively upon a principle of self-love. Just as Kant was to argue that
scepticism was unsustainable on its own terms, so Hazlitt identi¬es within
egoism a principle of selfhood which presumes the possibility of an in-
terest in the happinesss of others.
But is it the case that Hazlitt supposes that the future self is another
self? At certain times he suggests as much, as when he af¬rms that ˜I can
only abstract myself from my present being and take an interest in my
future being in the same sense and manner, in which I can go out of
myself entirely and enter into the minds and feelings of others [. . .].™
At such moments it can indeed be tempting to try to square Hazlitt™s

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