<< . .

. 14
( : 30)



. . >>

that feels the air of truth and propriety as the ¬ngers feel objects of touch™,
the province of which is ˜that mass of knowledge [. . .] which lies between
the extremes of positive proof or demonstration and downright igno-
rance [. . .]™.·° Even common sense, however, was not always suf¬cient
to prevent Hazlitt™s theory of power from eclipsing his epistemological
concerns. One of the main factors which ensured this was his dif¬cult
relationship with the theory of association.

©©® ®¤ ©® ©®© °°©®
In ˜On Genius and Common Sense™, Hazlitt states that as common
sense underlies genius and taste, ˜all that is meant by feeling or common
sense™ by turn ˜is nothing but the different cases of the association of
ideas [. . .]™. Thus, artistic expression itself ˜is got at solely by feeling, that
is, on the principle of the association of ideas [. . .]™.·± Hazlitt thereby
±·
Hazlitt™s immanent idealism
grounds genius in a principle of psychology which allows for a degree
of liberty in its operations without either making it answerable to the
demands of knowledge, or (which he saw as the same thing) reducing it
to abstract rules. However, if Hazlitt appears happy to place association
at the centre of his indifferentist theory of art and genius, he had in his
earlier work been far less comfortable with its implications for his theory
of knowledge. The problem which confronted him, as so often, was one
which he inherited from Hume: if (as Hazlitt claims) all knowledge is
abstract, that is, based upon ideas, and (as Hume claims) the association
of ideas is a fact, then how can one be sure that the connections between
ideas in, for example, judgements about relation and causality, are not
merely arbitrary matters of psychological coincidence? Hume™s problem
is a very immediate one for Hazlitt, for it has already been seen that
his own theory of abstraction prevents him from taking Reid™s common
sense route around it.
Consequently, Hazlitt™s early epistemological position on association
is one of ¬rm opposition. In the ˜Prospectus™, he asserts that ˜the princi-
ple of association does not account for all our ideas, feelings, and actions
[. . .]™.· However, though he attacks associationism, more often than not
the target of his arguments is Hartley. This is signi¬cant, as Hartley™s the-
ory, though the most extreme, was only one among a number of versions
of associationism in circulation at the time. Crucially, Hartley™s theory is
epistemological, and not merely psychological. In other words, it argues
that association is logically prior, and not subsequent to, perception itself.
This position is in turn best read as a modi¬cation of Hume, who had
declared in the Treatise that the ˜uniting principle among ideas is not to
be consider™d as an inseparable connexion™; but only as ˜a gentle force,
which commonly prevails™ among ideas, adding that ˜the qualities, from
which this association arises, and by which the mind is after this man-
ner convey™d from one idea to another, are three, viz. R    ¬® ,
C® ©§µ©  in time or place, and Cµ   and E¦ ¦   ™.· Hartley,
however, claims that the principle of contiguity is primary, distinguish-
ing within this quality two further categories: namely, synchronous, and
successive association.· By making the principle of association primar-
ily a temporal one, Hartley both negates any notion of the mind™s own
activity being integral to knowledge, and increases the element of ran-
domness in association itself. Additionally, he hitches his theory to a
thoroughgoing materialism which, despite his protests, renders it even
more deterministic than it might have been otherwise. Given this, when
examining Hazlitt™s assaults upon Hartleian associationism, it should
± Knowledge and Indifference in English Romantic Prose
be borne in mind that the theory of association in its broadest form is
not necessarily sceptical, materialistic, or deterministic. Nonetheless, it
is these very attributes to which Hazlitt objects the most.
Hazlitt has ¬ve main criticisms of this kind of associationism. In the
¬rst place, association is contingent, or arbitrary: as he puts it in the
˜Remarks™, a matter of ˜mere accident™·µ which cannot account for
the strength which some ideas have over others. Consequently, Hartley™s
associationism seems to lead either to scepticism about the validity of the
connection of ideas, or assumes some other, non-temporal principle of
connection. This leads to the second objection; namely, that association
is self-defeating, for it is ˜an express contradiction to suppose that associ-
ation is either the only mode of operation of the human mind, or that it is
the primary and most general principle of thought and action [. . .]™. The
reason for this is that the very act of association of two individual ideas
for Hazlitt already presupposes ˜some common principle of thought, the
same comparing power being exerted upon both [. . .]™.· Moreover, he
argues in the Essay that it does not even explain those psychological phe-
nomena which it is supposed to cover, such as the effects of habit. On
the contrary, it is ˜a gross mistake to consider all habit as necessarily
depending on association of ideas [. . .]™.·· The result of these limitations
form Hazlitt™s fourth charge: that association is completely inadequate
to explain the nature of consciousness or relation; a task which only the
˜intellectual philosophy™ is equal to. He alleges in the ˜Remarks™, that
the dictum ˜to feel is to think, “sentir est penser” ™ “ an axiom with which he
agrees “ is unsustainable on an associationist scheme: ˜the aggregate of
many actual sensations is [. . .] a totally different thing, from the collective
idea, comprehension, or consciousness of those sensations as many things,
or of any of their relations to each other [. . .]™.· Finally, and in an im-
portant respect most damningly, Hazlitt sees Hartley as disempowering
the mind at the expense of the object:

[Upon reading Hartley] I am somehow wedged in between different rows of
material objects, overpowering me by their throng, and from which I have
no power to escape, but of which I neither know nor understand any thing.
I constantly see objects multiplied upon me, not powers at work, I know no
reason why one thing follows another [. . .] he always reasons from the concrete
object, not from the abstract or essential properties of things [. . .].·

Importantly, Hazlitt continues to see knowledge as a struggle or
confrontation between two entities called subject and object. Particularly
noticeable in this passage is the emphasis upon the materiality of
±
Hazlitt™s immanent idealism
Hartley™s notion of the object: Hazlitt had complained earlier that he
˜is always the physiologist rather than the metaphysician™.° Yet Hartley™s
real concession to the object is epistemological: it lies not in his undoubted
materialism, but in his commitment to empiricism, and it is against this
that Hazlitt is really reacting.
It was Tucker, however, who seemed to Hazlitt to hold out the possi-
bility of redemption for the associative imagination. In The Light of Nature
Pursued, Tucker had in¬‚ated the function of the imagination in order to
support his thesis that it plays a role equal with understanding in the
formation of knowledge; that the two ˜go hand in hand co-operating
in the same work™.± A ˜receptacle of images™, the imagination is the
˜medium by whose ministry [ . . . the will] obtains what it wants™, and
is thus operative in the active, re¬‚ective process in which association
consists: ˜[w]hatever knowledge we receive from sensation, or fall upon
by experience, or grow into by habit and custom, may be counted the
produce of imagination [. . .]™. Most signi¬cantly, however, Tucker ex-
tended Hartley™s notion of the coalescence of ideas in association. Though
Hartley had designated this as ˜the highest Kind of Induction™, and as
amounting to a perfect coincidence of ideas, he had claimed that it ˜takes
place only in Mathematics™. Tucker extended the idea to denote the
production of new ideas in perception generally, whereby ˜a compound
may have properties resulting from the composition [of ideas] which do
not belong to the parts singly whereof it consists™.µ This regulation of as-
sociation encouraged Hazlitt to declare, in the essay ˜On Reason and the
Imagination™, that because ˜[t]he imagination is an associating principle
[ . . . it] has an instinctive perception when a thing belongs to a system,
or is only an exception to it™. However, it is in this same essay that
Hazlitt draws a very rigid distinction between ˜logical reason and practi-
cal truth™.· Thus, while Tucker™s commitment to imagination as a legit-
imate power in knowledge compels him to resort, rather apologetically,
to the same and ˜so much used distinction between absolute and moral
certainty™ in his examination of judgement, Hazlitt™s championing of
˜moral truth™ is much more aggressive. ˜What does not touch the heart,
or come home to the feelings™, he asserts, ˜goes comparatively for little
or nothing.™
Though at this point, the notion of the ˜instinctive perception™ of imag-
ination seemed to Hazlitt to be an effective way of retaining the epistemic
credibility of associative imagination, it harbours the same ambivalence
as his notion of common sense. Even in non-epistemological theories
of association such as Tucker™s, the pull of idea-empiricism remains the
±° Knowledge and Indifference in English Romantic Prose
same: once you advance from the bare representation by association or
any other agency of the subject, you move away from the object as it
is in itself. Yet the central tenet of contemporary epistemology was that
it was only through correspondence to an empirical object that an idea
has any truth-status. In this light, both Tucker™s reluctant, and Hazlitt™s
more enthusiastic resort to the notion of ˜moral™ certainty still signal a
concession to the empiricist.
There are indeed times when Hazlitt seems on the verge of relinquish-
ing entirely the epistemological endeavour to determine a demonstra-
ble foundation for truth which neither collapsed into empiricism, nor
rested upon the rather vague notions of feeling, common sense, or the
instinctive perception of association. Instead, the indeterminacy built
into these ideas became a virtue, as he came to see them as indicative
of a dimension of human existence which was itself beyond knowing.
This brings us to Hazlitt™s later use of association to articulate his non-
cognitive notion of artistic originality, in the ±° Atlas essay ˜Origi-
nality™, as ˜little more than the fertility of a teeming brain “ that is,
than the number and quantity of associations present to his mind [. . .].™°
As his attention turned towards this ¬eld, questions of epistemology
came to be marginalized by those concerning the production and
criticism of art.

© ® ®  ©    ® ¤    ° ·   °  © ®  © ° ¬ 
Up to now, most of the discussion has concentrated upon the theory of
abstraction and its adjuncts in Hazlitt™s work “ such as common sense
and associationism “ as the means by which he strove to solve the riddle
of ¬nding an alternative to empiricism™s principle of truth compatible
with his vision of the mind™s creativity and human capacity for moral
disinterestedness. Moreover, it has been noted how his advocacy of a
new, immanent idealism whereby the mind was assumed to make its own
truth gradually caused Hazlitt™s speculations to take on an increasingly
ontological turn, with increasing emphasis on the idea of unconditioned
power. The function of this notion in Hazlitt™s thought requires further
examination. Hazlitt™s ambivalence over whether power might prove to
be of bene¬t to a theory of knowledge, or whether it should be installed at
the core of an epistemically decentred metaphysics of the human mind,
is a product of his struggle to escape empiricism when epistemologically he
had nowhere else to go. In more general terms, then, Hazlitt™s dilemma
translates as the question: is the concept of power ¬‚exible enough to
±±
Hazlitt™s immanent idealism
ground knowledge without eclipsing it entirely, or must power remain
as a distinct but dominant force which was needed to counteract the
dessicating effects of excessive analysis? Could it even present a new way
of approaching reality which might actually replace philosophy™s notion
of ˜knowledge™?
Hazlitt often seems to be a positivist about the ¬rst question, appar-
ently persuaded that through the notion of power he can achieve a number
of epistemological objectives. The ¬rst of these is to free the mind from
the determination of sensation and (thereby, he infers) matter. It has al-
ready been seen how one of his main objections to Hartley was that
he disempowered the mind itself in favour of the object; or, to be precise,
the empirical object, which Hazlitt classi¬es as ˜material™. As a conse-
quence of this, he concludes that the most effective way of opposing
Hartley is through some kind of anti-materialist position. Metaphysical
idealism and epistemological argument thus become allies: in the
˜Prospectus™, he argues that ˜[t]he mind has laws, powers, and princi-
ples of its own, and is not the mere puppet of matter™. Elsewhere, a
separate argument of Hazlitt™s is that it is the power of the understanding
that produces ideas; that forms the moulds for knowledge. Again, in the
˜Prospectus™, abstraction itself is seen as a ˜power™, by virtue of the fact that
˜[i]deas are the offspring of the understanding, not of the senses [. . .].™±
It is this same ˜power of mind™ by which, in the Essay, it had been pro-
posed that the moral agent may engage sympathetically with the pain
or pleasure of another.
The question as to the sense in which imagination or understanding
was to be considered as a kind of projecting power which is innate with
the mind was one of which Hazlitt was acutely aware. He was very
sensitive to the possible suspicion that by questioning empiricism, he
was merely looking back wistfully to philosophy before Locke. Thus,
in his lecture on Locke™s Essay, though he complains that Locke™s ˜bad
simile™ of the mind as being like a blank sheet of paper distorts the true
nature of understanding, he is careful to add nonetheless that it is ˜true
as far as relates to innate ideas [. . .]™. The point, he argues, is that,
though clearly not a reservoir of innate ideas, the understanding is an
innate power of mind for producing ideas:
the supposing the understanding to be a distinct faculty of the mind no more
proves our ideas to be innate, than the allowing perception to be a distinct origi-
nal faculty of the mind, which everybody does, proves that there must be innate
sensations. These two positions have, however, been sometimes considered as
convertible by the partisans on both sides of the question [. . .].
± Knowledge and Indifference in English Romantic Prose
Hazlitt is on ¬rmer ground here. Later, he criticizes Locke for failing
to distinguish adequately ˜between two things which I cannot very well
express otherwise than by a turn of words, namely, an innate knowl-
edge of principles, and innate principles of knowledge. His arguments
seem to me conclusive against the one, but not against the other [. . .].™
He even appeals to the authority of Leibniz in this, assuming that the
German philosopher™s doctrine of ˜pre-established harmony between its
innate faculties and its acquired ideas, implied in the essence of the mind
itself ™ supports his own thesis.µ As a point scored against Locke, this
is fair enough, but Hazlitt has yet to demonstrate how, without innate
knowledge, we can know just what these principles are. Without such an
account, we are returned to the position of the common sense man in
the dark from the Preface to Tucker: in possession of perfect eyesight,
he is yet no more able to avoid ˜groping™ around in the dark than his
(physically) blind companion. Similarly, if Hazlitt is followed, we may
suppose that we have sound principles of knowledge, but we are at a loss
to discern their precise character. Ours is an unknowing knowing.
Hazlitt™s various attempts to overcome this impasse “ which include the
use of a variant of common sense theory “ have already been discussed.
The tenth proposition of the ˜Prospectus™, however, makes a simpler sug-
gestion: that we have an immediate perception of power, merely through
the exercising of it: ˜[w]e do not get this idea [of power] from the outward
changes which take place in matter, but from the exertion of it in our-
selves. Whoever has stretched out his hand to an object must have had
the feeling of power [. . .]™. Hazlitt™s framing of the notion of intuitive
or unmediated knowledge of power by making it neither wholly medi-
ate nor immediate, and attributing it instead to ˜feeling™, goes beyond
foundationalism and opens up the possibility of a relationship of person
and world which is not grounded in ˜knowing™.· At the same time, it
threatens to undermine the very theory of abstraction which power is
supposed to ground, and which con¬nes all knowledge to ideas. Hazlitt,
however, thought that he could square this circle by appealing to Kant.
Hazlitt™s view of the German philosopher was prone to change. In the
Preface to Tucker, though with a little hesitation, he approves of Kant™s
position (as he sees it) in that it ˜takes for granted the common notions
prevalent among mankind, and then endeavours to explain them; or to
shew their foundation in nature, and the universal relations of things™,
and thereby reverses the mechanical and sceptical trend initiated by
Locke. This rather loose characterization encourages him to miscast
Tucker himself as a ˜truant™ from Lockeanism and a fellow-traveller with
±
Hazlitt™s immanent idealism
Kant, insofar as ˜he believed with professor Kant in the unity of con-
sciousness, or “that the mind alone is formative”, that fundamental article
of the transcendental creed; in the immateriality of the soul, etc.™ Later,
in the ±± Morning Chronicle article on Madame de Sta¨ l, he claims that
e
Kant™s system is built upon ˜ “the sublime restriction (as Madame de Sta¨ l e
expresses it) added by Leibnitz to the well-known axiom nihil in intellectu
quod non prius in sensu “ ®©  © ©®  ¬¬  µ © °  .” ™ With this understand-
ing of Kant, and with Willich apparently by his elbow, it is not surprising
that he ¬nds ˜Kant™s notions a priori™ a little puzzling, and ˜little better
than the innate ideas of the schools™. Moreover, he seems baf¬‚ed by the
German™s method: ˜Kant does not appear to trouble himself about the
evidence of any particular proposition™, with the result that ˜logical proof
is wanting™ in his argument.±°°
In this light, one does not need to debate the dubious provenance of
the notorious Edinburgh Review savaging of Kant™s system, a few years
subsequently, as ˜the most wilful and monstrous absurdity that ever was
invented™ to see that Hazlitt™s sympathy for the critical philosophy did
not stretch much further than his understanding of it.±°± The point,
however, is not that Hazlitt failed to grasp the originality and signi¬cance
of transcendental method “ it is doubtful whether anyone in Britain at
the time did, including Coleridge “ but that by mistaking Kant variously
as a kindred spirit with Tucker, a neo-Leibnizian, and ¬nally an innatist,
it is evident that his idealistic posture is that of a rebellious empiricist.
The most important objection to Kant in the Morning Chronicle article,
it should be recalled, is that he does not allow that ˜ideas are the result
of the action of objects on such and such faculties of the mind [. . .]™.±°
To Hazlitt, Kant™s suggestion that the foundations of knowledge were a
priori and conceptual in character sounds too much like old-fashioned
innatism. Human creation aside, knowledge is still bound by empirical
laws, insofar as truth remains a function of the extent to which the mind™s
representations correspond to a given object.±°

   ® ¤  © §© ®¬ ©  
As the contest between knowledge and indifference shapes Hazlitt™s
moral theory, so it lies behind the ambivalence of his writings on art
and aesthetics. Here, however, Hazlitt, like Wordsworth and Coleridge,
is more con¬dent about challenging the jurisdiction of knowledge with
art.±° At the centre of this issue, as so often, is the relation between per-
son and world implied by the English Romantic construction of human
± Knowledge and Indifference in English Romantic Prose
creativity. As Roy Park observes, the state of philosophy in England at
the time meant that ˜[f]ew were prepared to speculate at any length in
epistemological terms on a theory of the creative nature of the human
mind™.±°µ The preceding discussions have offered an insight as to why
this particular kind of indifference took root in England. It wasn™t merely
that in the absence of an emphatic and convincing refutation of Hume,
philosophy had settled for a less ambitious naturalism. Instead, Romantic
creation theory self-consciously resisted philosophical articulation. It
did not make itself available to understanding. In fact, it stood for the
curtailing, perhaps even the ending of a way of looking at the world
as ¬rst and foremost something which needed to be ˜understood™, an
object of knowledge “ an outlook which had only produced scepticism.
Creativity in art, and at the extreme, artistic genius, represented the pos-
sibility of an engagement with reality not in thrall to notions of ˜truth™
and representation. In effect, while for eighteenth-century Scots such as
Alexander Gerard and William Duff original genius was simply another
subject towards which empirical philosophy might turn its attention,
to Hazlitt, creativity and genius questioned the need for ˜philosophy™
as such.
In signi¬cant respects, Hazlitt™s notion of creative genius is already
contained in the theory of practical reason outlined in the Essay: that is,
in the idea of a projective power innate in all human beings which tran-
scends empirical determination and empowers the agent to furnish the
rule for his or her own conduct. Indeed, generally speaking Hazlitt does
not accept that the artistic genius is an entirely different creature from
most other people: merely that he possesses certain common character-
istics to an unusual or exaggerated degree. There are exceptions to this,
such as Shakespeare, but such instances represent a level of autonomy
and elevated achievement so rare as almost to be beyond the account
of theory entirely. As Natarajan argues, the anomaly of Shakespeare™s
self-negating, ˜protean™ genius within Hazlitt™s broader theory of genius
as the exertion of a powerful ego disappears if the latter is seen as ˜the
glorious exception to that theory, not its rule™.±°
For Hazlitt, Genius™s close af¬nity with common sense means that it
has the kind of quasi-cognitive status which he also attributed to the
moral imagination. In ˜On Genius and Common Sense™, having based
common sense upon association, Hazlitt declares that both genius and
taste ˜depend upon much the same principle exercised on loftier ground
and in more unusual combinations [. . .]™.±°· But whereas with the moral
autonomy of mind outlined in the Essay Hazlitt had found it extremely
±µ
Hazlitt™s immanent idealism
dif¬cult to legitimize the mind™s power, in aesthetics he is happy to charac-
terize the products of artistic genius as manifestations of a preponderance
of power over reason; a worthy bias of mind, which, expressing nature™s
own power, projects itself by force of passion upon the object it per-
ceives. Typical of this attitude is his criticism of Pope in an ±± Edinburgh
Magazine essay. Pope was certainly not a great poet, Hazlitt maintains,
in that he was too objective: the bent of his mind lay ˜in representing
things as they appear to the indifferent observer, stripped of prejudice
and passion [. . .]™.±° Thus construed, genius is free from conscious de-
liberation: a few years later, in ˜The Indian Jugglers™ Hazlitt distinguishes
talent from genius ˜as voluntary differs from involuntary power™.±°
Yet there remained the persistent foundationalist worry: how is it pos-
sible for genius legitimately to set its own rules; that is, create the very
values by which it is to be judged? Without this, genius appears either
as a talent for achieving predetermined ends, or an ability to carry out
any complex and dif¬cult task without conscious effort “ a facility which
might be true of the expert egg-and-spoon racer as well as the juggler
and the artist. Hazlitt, sensitive to this, is careful not to make gusto a
suf¬cient condition of genius or artistic value. Genius does, indeed, have
a privileged access to reality, but only inasmuch as it has its foundation
in the same feeling or common sense as the process of abstraction. Thus,
though art depends upon feeling, and is divorced from reason, it is no
less valid in its own right: indeed, it has a more immediate connection
to the power of nature which determines rational truth. ˜Shall we say™,
he asks in ˜On Genius and Common Sense™, ˜that these impressions
(the immediate stamp of nature) do not operate in a given manner till
they are classi¬ed and reduced to rules, or is not the rule itself grounded
upon the truth and certainty of that natural operation?™ Answering this,
he claims that ˜[r]eason is the interpreter and critic of nature and genius,
not their lawgiver and judge™.±±° Hazlitt™s theory of genius goes beyond
Kant™s, then, in that he sees it as the innate faculty whereby nature gives
the rule not only to art, but also to reason. By doing this, Hazlitt effects
the characteristic English Romantic strategy of overcoming foundation-
alism by making creation itself foundational. In this he hopes to get
the best of both worlds: epistemic security is preserved, but at the same
time knowledge itself is tamed, becoming a secondary sphere in human
experience.
This pattern repeats itself in Hazlitt™s treatment of originality. Hazlitt is
emphatic that this does not signify the creation out of nothing: ˜Genius or
originality is, for the most part, some strong quality in the mind, answering to and
± Knowledge and Indifference in English Romantic Prose
bringing out some new and striking quality in nature [. . .].™ It is the transference
of deep feeling between associations according to a principle of ˜sympa-
thy, and not by rule [. . .]™.±±± As he puts it in the later essay ˜Originality™,
upon being presented with the endless variety of nature, ˜it is in seizing
on this unexplored variety, and giving some one of these new but easily
recognised features, in its characteristic essence, and according to the
peculiar bent and force of the artist™s genius, that true originality con-
sists.™±± Originality is therefore opposed to abstraction: where the latter
aggregates, the former particularizes and intensi¬es. But this kind of ge-
nius (as distinct from the more universal, protean genius of Shakespeare)
is receptive, and depends upon the input of nature:

All that we meet with in the master-pieces of taste and genius is to be found
in the previous capacity of nature; and man, instead of adding to the store, or
creating any thing either as to matter or manner, can only draw out a feeble
and imperfect transcript, bit by bit [. . .]. The mind resembles a prism, which
untwists the various rays of truth, and displays them by different modes and in
several parcels.±±

The claims made on behalf of original genius here are notably mod-
erate: the mind may only draw out a ˜feeble and imperfect transcript™

<< . .

. 14
( : 30)



. . >>