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vocabulary with the post-Kantian grid of analytic philosophy. But for
Hazlitt, Hume™s sceptical evaporation of identity into a vapour of sense-
impressions was not about to be contained by an a priori net of conceptual
conditions. Indeed, the ˜self™ was already inherently unstable, an aggre-
gate of impressions uni¬ed only by the necessary ¬ction of abstraction,
without which ˜I am not the same thing, but many different things.™µ
From this perspective, it is simply futile to talk of past, present, or future
selves which ultimately recede into an in¬nitesimal particularity.
±±·
Hazlitt™s immanent idealism
What made such a discourse inevitable according to Hazlitt was not a
conceptual consideration, but the power behind abstraction, namely the
faculty of imagination. Working behind the Essay™s philosophical argu-
ment for disinterested action is an epistemologically indifferent rhetoric
of power. As Hazlitt maintains: ˜The direct primary motive, or impulse
which determines the mind to the volition of any thing must therefore in
all cases depend on the idea of that thing as conceived of by the imagina-
tion, and on the idea solely. For the thing itself is a non-entity.™ Hazlitt™s
concealed quarrel, ostensibly with the philosophical egoist, is with philo-
sophical argument itself, whose discourse of ˜knowledge ¬rst™ the power
of imagination impeaches. Yet that this process stops for the moment
at arraignment rather than conviction is due to the fact that Hazlitt felt
unable to challenge the dualisms (word/object; idea/thing; value/fact)
upon which epistemological enquiry, and empiricism in particular, had
traditionally rested. Consequently, the cause of scepticism, namely the
foundationalist concern with the relation of the mind™s representations
of the world to the world itself, is not viewed as a worn-out metaphor, but
remains a problem, a puzzle, as he admits in ˜Remarks on the Systems
of Hartley and Helvetius™:
I never could make much of the subject of real relations in nature [. . .] they
cannot exist in nature after the same manner that they exist in the human
mind. The forms of things in nature are manifold; they only become one by
being united in the same common principle of thought. The relations of the
things themselves as they exist separately and by themselves must therefore be
very different from their relations as perceived by the mind where they have an
immediate communication with each other.
Hazlitt™s position is neither that of the analytic or transcendental
philosopher, con¬dent that scepticism (and its ethical cousin, egoism)
can be eliminated conceptually, nor that of the naturalist or deconstruc-
tionist, both of whom remain sceptical about scepticism™s own founda-
tionalist presumptions. At one point in the Essay, indeed, he dismisses
Humean-naturalistic accounts of the ˜habit™ of moral reasoning with a
telling appeal to grounds, claiming that ˜[w]hatever the force of habit may
be, however subtle and universal its in¬‚uence, it is not every thing, not
even the principal thing. Before we plant, it is proper to know the nature
of the soil [. . .]™.· Instead, Hazlitt™s theory of abstraction and his account
of practical reason adumbrated in the Essay resort to the notion of an
imagination which itself comes to test the very status of the argument
in which it ¬gures, as epistemic (and by implication, moral) justi¬cation is
pressurized by power. At the same time, the antifoundationalist potential
±± Knowledge and Indifference in English Romantic Prose
of this strategy undermined by Hazlitt™s concurrent need to keep knowl-
edge as correspondence, that is, as a relationship (even an inscrutable
one) between ˜real relations in nature™ and ˜relations as perceived by the
mind™, a centred concern. Unable to put ˜truth™ to rest once and for all,
the question which remained, and was to worry Hazlitt in the future,
was: given that we create the object, or the idea of the object, is power
the only ground whereby we are entitled to af¬rm this object as true, or,
with regard to moral judgement, as binding for all human subjects?
From an early stage Hazlitt™s experience as a painter gave him a very
individual perspective on this dilemma. Indeed, it has been argued that
it is this which forms the immediate background for the theory of ab-
straction itself. It is certainly clear that any examination of Hazlitt™s
attempt to make a philosophical example of painting should be alive to
how it functions in his effort to steer his theory of abstraction between
an epistemologically uneasy projectivism and an ontology of power in-
different to the claims of knowledge and truth. As will be seen below, in
his more ˜cognitive™ moments Hazlitt often attempts to escape from this
dilemma by experimenting with concepts such as moral or ˜imaginative™
truth, but many of his observations on painting themselves seem to sug-
gest an alternative way of approaching the problem of how the mind™s
projections might be ˜true™ as well as powerful.
Among the most provoking of these is a comment made in the course
of the continuing article of his review of ˜Madame de Sta¨ l™s Account of
e
German Philosophy and Literature™ for The Morning Chronicle in ±±. In
this, he repeats his central claim that as ˜[a]ll particular things consist of,
and even lead to, an in¬nite number of other things [. . .]. Abstraction
is therefore a necessary consequence of the limitation of the compre-
hensive faculty [. . .].™ To support this claim, however, he then suggests
a practical example: in effect, he argues that the bare fact that very
few people are capable of rendering the likeness of a close friend in the
form of a drawing or a painting does not mean that they do not know
what that person looks like; merely that their knowledge of his or her
appearance is necessarily con¬ned to generalities, and not particular
points:
Let any one, who is not an artist, or let any one who is, attempt to give an outline
from memory of the features of his most intimate friend, and he will feel the
truth of this remark. Yet though he does not know the exact turn of any one
feature, he will instantly, and without fail, recognise the person the moment he
meets him in the street, and that often, merely from catching a glimpse of some
part of his dress, or from peculiarity of motion, though he may be quite at a
±±
Hazlitt™s immanent idealism
loss to de¬ne in what this peculiarity consists, or to account for its impression
on him.µ°

Even the successful sculptor or painter, Hazlitt believes, will never retain
the perfect set of particulars which combine to form their subject “ and
this, indeed, is the direct consequence of the fact that, qua objects of
perception, ˜[a]ll particulars are nothing but generals [. . .]™.µ±
In this analogy Hazlitt appears to be making a point about knowledge
in general, along the lines that to have a full or complete representation
of the appearance of an object is not a necessary condition of having
knowledge of the appearance of that object. This is, in turn, quite in step
with Hazlitt™s general theory of abstraction. However, it also contains an
equivocation, represented by the following positions: (a) that as a matter
of psychological fact, all our knowledge is circumscribed by a process of
abstraction, though it is quite conceivable that, in another world, or in
elevated beings (such as artists, who are able to render likenesses) such
limitation might not obtain; (b) that our very concept or understanding
of what knowledge is, presupposes as its condition a limitation and gen-
erality of this very kind, and that without it, speculation about possible
objects of ˜knowledge™ is meaningless. Hazlitt appears to discount the
¬rst possibility, inasmuch as he makes it clear that even painters and
sculptors are not immune to the condition of abstraction. But to end the
matter here would be to allow the metaphor to lead the argument too
far: the equivocation still remains; an equivocation which lies between
making a statement about ˜all our knowledge™ and one about the concept
of ˜knowledge™. The ¬rst is an empirical, the second, a transcendental
argument.
This is an important matter: at its heart lies the question, does it make
sense to talk of having a full, empirically given representation of an object?
To Kant, for example, the inconceivability of this meant that an element
of the structure of the object itself must be a product of our consciousness.
But Hazlitt does not disallow in principle that the human mind might
receive a complete empirical representation of the object. Indeed, upon
closer inspection his argument looks more like an empirical one. This is
already suggested by his painting analogy: as a matter of fact, most of
us cannot paint realistic or representational portraits “ but this remains
a matter of fact, as some of us can paint realistically. Consequently, the
impossibility of an absolute representation is just a factual impossibility.
Unlike Kant, Hazlitt does not consider it to be a necesary condition of
the very possibility of knowledge that it be considered as bounded by
±° Knowledge and Indifference in English Romantic Prose
the conditions of abstraction: he merely thinks that abstraction forms
the centre and circumference of our knowledge, which is different. The
grounds of knowledge remain factual, not conceptual.
Consequently, when he sits down at his desk to write about knowledge,
Hazlitt is prone to think as a representationalist and an empiricist, be-
cause he approaches the problem in terms of how the mind can receive the
object; not of how objects might be suited to the mind, as Kant did, or
of how power or language structure thought, as much modern thought
does. If, as a matter of fact, the mind cannot receive the object as a unity,
then (he infers) it must have a role in forming that knowledge itself. But
the legislative process moves ˜inwards™, not ˜outwards™. The mind has no
epistemic authority in this: its role is that of forming the necessary ¬ctions
of abstraction. If one were ¬nally to ask, where is reality located, in its
simplest form?, Hazlitt, doubtless with some resistance, would have to
answer: ˜out there™; that is, in the object. The analogy from painting
indeed demonstrates the fact of our cognitive reliance upon abstraction,
but does not relieve Hazlitt™s ongoing problem of how the mind can be
said legitimately to ˜ground™ itself. This is fundamental to the tension in
Hazlitt™s thought: the object must be mastered, but there is no a priori basis
for the veracity of the mind™s projection. Unable exhaustively to dissolve
the object/subject duality, the mind™s power, even as it is exercised, is
curtailed, and knowledge is marked as incomplete, vague, phenomenal:
bordered not by the veil of logically possible sense-experience, but that
of psychologically possible sense-experience.

 ® ©®§ ©§© ®© ®  ® ¤ °  ¤ µ ©  µ® ¤   ®¤ © ®§
In the absence of an alternative to empiricism™s principle of truth, Hazlitt
often postulates the existence of a faculty, the function of which is to act
as a site of restitution. Such a faculty, it is imagined, will simultaneously
satisfy the Unitarian in Hazlitt by carrying out the productive synthesis
which makes moral reasoning and disinterested action possible, as well
as the harrassed epistemologist in him who still retains a concern that
such creativity might never be lawful; that the mind cannot be trusted
to give the rule to itself in terms of either its knowledge or its practical
decisions. It is notable that Hazlitt™s opinions on the functions of the fac-
ulties, though not particularly stable to begin with, undergo a discernible
change between his earlier, epistemologically preoccupied work, and his
later, more indifferent positions. This alteration, moreover, roughly cor-
responds to the closure of the more ambitious philosophical projects of
±±
Hazlitt™s immanent idealism
his twenties, and the professional criticism and art theory of subsequent
years.
Indeed, the only constant elements of Hazlitt™s views on this subject
are that reason is never purely logical in its operations, and imagination
is never simply productive. Understanding is the most unstable of the
faculties in this respect, and ¬gures prominently in his early attempts to
strike a balance between creation, or productive synthesis, and factual
truth. Accordingly, as he becomes less concerned with this problem later
(though it never leaves him), the understanding gradually drops from
view to be replaced by a dichotomy of imagination and reason. Yet it
was by twinning these very faculties that Hazlitt had set about resolv-
ing the problem in the Essay, in which he advises the reader that ˜I do
not use the word imagination as contradistinguished from or opposed to
reason, or the faculty by which we re¬‚ect upon and compare our ideas,
but as opposed to sensation, or memory.™ It is thus the ˜reasoning imag-
ination™ which is ˜the immediate spring and guide of action™.µ In other
words, it is the harmony of imagination and reason, which, at this stage,
guarantees the lawfulness of the mind™s spontaneity in action. This, of
course, explains everything rather too neatly; a fact which Hazlitt him-
self comes to realize. By placing imagination at such an extreme remove
from sensation, and so close to reason, he makes the question of the
mind™s receptivity problematic.
Accordingly, in the ±° ˜Prospectus of a History of English Philos-
ophy,™ and in the Lectures on English Philosophy three years later, under-
standing assumes a greater importance, replacing the rather clumsily
assembled ˜reasoning imagination.™ It is at once productive, in that
˜[i]deas are the offspring of the understanding™,µ and regulative; a
˜superintending faculty, which alone perceives the relations of things™.µ
The simultaneously synthetic and re¬‚exive nature of understanding is
the foundation upon which Hazlitt bases his declaration that the ˜mind
alone is formative™ “ a phrase which he attributes to Kant, probably with
the encouragement of A. F. M. Willich™s rather ropy exposition of the
Critique of Pure Reason in his Elements of the Critical Philosophy.µµ This propo-
sition, which Hazlitt ¬rst used in his Preface to Tucker, in turn becomes
one of his favourite philosophical catchphrases, and a model premise
for his attempts to articulate the mind™s activity.µ Reason, meanwhile,
had increasingly become identi¬ed with judgement and pure logic. In
the lecture on Locke, it is given as the ˜property of the understanding,
by which certain judgements naturally follow certain perceptions,™ or
˜nothing but the understanding acting by rule or necessity™.µ· However,
± Knowledge and Indifference in English Romantic Prose
these accounts do not sit easily together. If all our ideas are abstract be-
cause of the self-af¬rming productivity of the understanding, then what
is the origin of the putative ˜rules™ of reason “ and most saliently, their
˜necessity™? Is it the case that understanding guarantees knowledge by
legislating for itself (which is the cornerstone of the theory of abstrac-
tion), or is understanding itself answerable to a set of supersensible laws
cognizable only by reason? The fourth proposition of the Prospectus is
˜[t]hat reason is a distinct source of knowledge or inlet of truth, over
and above experience.™µ The implication of these remarks is that reason
is receiving its validation from something other than itself.
Of course, Hazlitt did not intend to overturn empiricism simply to
install a hegemony of reason in its place: it is rather that in struggling
to free himself from the language of empiricism, he experimented with
faculties which might not be directly answerable to sense-experience.
From the perspective of his underlying correspondence theory of per-
ception, however, such notions threatened to deprive knowledge of its
foundations. As he began to relinquish the entire project of a foundational
epistemology, and the vision of a reconciliation between a republican un-
derstanding and an aristocratic imagination receded, Hazlitt developed
a more equanimous attitude to the possibility that there might actually
be no solution to the problem of knowledge: that the unfortunate fact
might be just that, as human beings, we were split between two natures;
one driven by truth, the other by power. It is in this spirit that he was to
write in The Examiner in ±±µ, in an article entitled ˜Mind and Motive™,
that ˜[w]e are the creatures of imagination, passion and self-will, more
than of reason or even of self-interest™.µ It also forms the grounds for his
criticism of Coleridge in the Edinburgh Review two years later:

Reason and imagination are both excellent things; but perhaps their provinces
ought to be kept more distinct than they have lately been. ˜Poets have such
seething brains,™ that they are disposed to meddle with every thing, and mar all.
Mr C., with great talents, has, by an ambition to be every thing, become nothing.
His metaphysics have been a dead weight on the wings of his imagination “ while
his imagination has run away with his reason and common sense.°

Roy Park argues that this anti-rational turn represents Hazlitt™s
˜experiential™ solution to a dif¬cult contemporary epistemological prob-
lem.± However, though this aptly characterizes an aspect of Hazlitt™s
thought which becomes increasingly central in his later work, there is
evidence that he was never entirely comfortable with this settlement.
A deep tension between knowledge and indifference remained in his
work to the end of his career. This is particularly notable in the way he
±
Hazlitt™s immanent idealism
approaches the perennial question of the proper function and status of
reason. In the ±° article on ˜Prejudice™ for The Atlas, for instance, he
is prepared to take a naturalistic, non-cognitive line, holding that there
is not the gulf between reason and prejudice that has commonly been
supposed, and that ˜custom, passion, imagination, insinuate themselves
into and in¬‚uence almost every judgement we pass or sentiment we in-
dulge, and are a necessary help (as well as a hindrance) to the human
understanding [. . .].™ In the ± essay ˜On Reason and Imagination™,
however, while maintaining as usual that ˜[p]assion [. . .] is the essence,
the chief ingredient in moral truth,™ he insists that ˜logical reason and
practical truth are disparates [. . .]™. Then again, in ±±, in ˜On Genius
and Common Sense™, he had achieved something approaching a com-
promise, granting reason a limited but non-legislative jurisdiction over
experience, or ˜common sense™, rather like a digni¬ed but disempowered
upper chamber: for though ˜[b]y ingrafting reason on feeling, we “make
assurance double sure”,™ he argues, ˜reason, not employed to interpret
nature, and to improve and perfect common sense and experience, is,
for the most part, a building without a foundation [. . .]™. What one wit-
nesses in all this intensive negotiation between the faculties is Hazlitt™s
attempt to shore up the very hierarchies and epistemologically reassur-
ing dualisms presupposed by an empirical philosophy which his own
radical theory of abstraction, by challenging the boundaries between
particularity and generalization, imagination and reason, undermines.
Before his doubt about the epistemological enterprise had deepened,
Hazlitt™s main objective had been to demonstrate how the key to truth
lay in the intimacy of the faculties, and their subordination to one ˜elastic
power™. ˜The mind™, he declared, ˜is not so loosely constructed, as that
the different parts can disengage themselves at will from the rest of the
system, and follow their own separate impulses. It is governed by many
different springs united together, and acting in subordination to the same
conscious power.™µ Yet his hope of elucidating this faded as it became
evident that his ambitions in this respect outstripped, not so much his
abilities as a thinker, but the capabilities of the philosophical instruments
which were at his disposal. Nonetheless, one of these tools “ the appeal to
common sense “ he used frequently enough to merit further attention.

°°©® ®¤ ® ®
In many ways, Hazlitt™s defence of commonsensism might seem some-
thing of a paradox. Reid had indeed argued that the mind played an
active role in knowledge, but it was for him a necessary condition of it
± Knowledge and Indifference in English Romantic Prose
doing so that our knowledge of objects was immediate, given partly by
an affective power in the object, and partly by corresponding ˜simple
and original, and therefore inexplicable acts of the mind™, which were
in turn governed by unalterable dispositions in human nature. He ac-
cordingly dismisses ˜the ideal system™ as it runs from Descartes to Hume,
for misguidedly assuming from the outset that all our knowledge is con-
¬ned to representations of reality, or ideas. This premise has an ˜original
defect; that [. . .] scepticism is inlaid in it [. . .].™· With this in mind, it
seems plain that the meaning which Hazlitt attaches to ˜common sense™
is not that of Reid. Indeed, though his aims are broadly similar “ in
particular, the defeat of scepticism “ the route he takes in pursuit of their
ful¬lment, through the theory of abstract ideas, could not be more
divergent from Reid™s. While for Reid the postulation of a ˜common™
sense negates the necessity (and therefore the existence) of ideas, Hazlitt
founds all knowledge upon ideas of the most general kind.
Given this, the question arises as to what conception of common
sense Hazlitt does entertain, and how he imagines it might reinforce
the argument from abstraction. A relatively early indicator is provided
by the Preface to Tucker. Here, common sense signi¬es the inarticulate
feeling for that ¬eld of objects; the range of ˜minute differences and per-
plexing irregularities™, which lies beyond abstraction and the ˜moulds
of the understanding™. A failure to treat knowledge as circumscribed
by this ˜defect of comprehension™ “ that is, by accepting abstraction as
the limit of reality itself, rather than just of knowledge “ is, then, to be
lacking in common sense. It is to be ˜like a person who should deprive
himself of the use of his eye-sight, in order that he might be able to
grope his way better in the dark!™ This defence of common sense, how-
ever, harbours a familiar ambiguity, namely, between a psychological and
a transcendental mode of argument. Hazlitt™s epistemological problem
is to account for those noumenal ˜minute differences™ within a purely
descriptive psychological method in which such the drawing of such a
boundary might seem an unwarranted a priori hypothesis. Kant noto-
riously ran into similar problems by running a psychological argument
concerning the nature of the faculties into a transcendental argument
about the conceptual conditions of experience, thereby translating an
account of what is conceivable into one of what kind of things exist.
This in turn provoked Jacobi™s celebrated attack on the ¬rst edition of
the Critique of Pure Reason™s postulation of noumenal entities. Hazlitt™s
position, however, is at once more invidious and more advanced. For the
very absence of any prospect of a transcendental third way in his thought
±µ
Hazlitt™s immanent idealism
draws him towards the more radical discourse of a kind of knowing not-
knowing comparable to Jacobian faith, which somehow communicates
with the dark presence of being. As ineffable, common sense provides
a feeling for that which is beyond the reach of sense; but as a ˜sense™, it
has, it is suggested, at least a quasi-cognitive status. However, Hazlitt™s
simile “ whereby the operation of common sense and over-abstraction
are compared, respectively, to that of normal human sight and blindness
when under identical conditions of utter darkness “ is an ambivalent
one. For though the blind man is certainly lacking something, it is still true
that he has no less knowledge of what is around him than the man who
has sight. It is this ˜something™ towards which Hazlitt gestures, but for
which he does not account.
It is noticeable that in this later work the creative processes which
Hazlitt had previously identi¬ed as responsible for abstraction seem to
have slipped from the picture. Instead, abstraction in this instance is
chained to reason, and not the idea-producing understanding of the ±°·
˜Prospectus™. Indeed, its current function seems more one of limitation
than projection, and while there is nothing inconsistent in this, strictly
speaking (for Hazlitt™s projectivism implies epistemic boundaries), the
shift of emphasis is striking. There are important reasons for this modi-
¬cation, and the emergence of the concept of common sense, as used by
Hazlitt, can be seen to be a product of underlying points of stress in his
position. In Hazlitt™s early account, it will be recalled, abstraction is the
mind™s projection of ¬nitude upon an in¬nite, plural world. There could,
he argued, be no knowledge without this mental activity. From this, he
inferred that because the resulting knowledge was necessarily general,
or vague, it must be connected with, or even determined by feeling. The
particular, meanwhile, was not cognizable. But because particular things
existed in the same world which formed the object of our perceptions,
there was nothing about the nature of experience per se which rendered
them imperceptible: it was just a matter of fact that, as limited human
beings, they were beyond our grasp. Thus, there is always the suggestion
in Hazlitt™s work that common sense might compensate the abstract-
ing mind for its loss of knowledge: it comes to represent, in a sense, the
direct voice of Jacobian ˜feeling™ which grounds abstraction itself. This in
turn opens up opportunities for accounting for the operations of artistic
genius.
The roots of Hazlitt™s recourse to common sense lie in the bluntness of
his theory of abstraction, a theory, it has been noted, which leads him to
reject the notion of perception as a relation between conceptual scheme
± Knowledge and Indifference in English Romantic Prose
and ˜given™ raw data. Its comprehensiveness is such that Hazlitt does
not feel it necessary to make qualitative distinctions within knowledge
itself; most signi¬cantly, between what is projected, and what is ˜given™, or
(as Kant would have put it) between concepts and sensations. The result
of this is that the object itself seems to vanish, as the boundaries between
what is projected and what is received are blurred. To this extent, Hazlitt
rejects the foundationalist version of ˜knowledge™ as he had inherited it
from British eighteenth-century epistemology. In this light, indeed, the
mind seems in principle to have no limits to what it can create.
However, the epistemologist in Hazlitt remained concerned that ab-
straction fails to justify its own limitation of knowledge on anything other
than factual grounds. Unlike Coleridge, who, thanks to Kant, felt able to
rest knowledge on grounds which were transcendental in nature, Hazlitt,
having challenged the ˜givenness™ of perception, is left with a knowl-
edge that can never rest. Restless, aggressive, always moving out of itself,
Hazlitt™s immanent idealism is naturally impatient of transcendental or
conceptual curbs, and his dilemma is always one of how much of the ter-
ritory it gains he is prepared to count as knowledge, given his underlying
¬delity to the fundamental precept that, regardless of what consciousness
works up for itself, truth sui generis is determined by the correspondence of
(or even the confrontation between) mental phenomena and actual states
of affairs in the world. In this delicate and often precarious balancing
act, common sense increasingly takes on the role of arbiter between the
demands of empirical knowledge and the mind™s sheer power. Common
sense is, as he puts it in his Atlas essay of ±, ˜a kind of mental instinct,

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