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profound overhaul of Burke™s empirical approach to the structure of the
object, and particularly ˜the Burkean inability or refusal to distinguish be-
tween our experience of objects and our experience of representations of
objects™. As it turned out, one form this would take was Kant™s aesthetic
merging of subject of object, which on one hand seemed merely to offer
the subject sublime compensations for epistemic loss, but at the same
·
The eighteenth century
time had the potential to obviate the dualisms so beloved of empiricism
which sustained epistemology itself.

°  ¦ °©©©

Crossing Hume™s fork: the problem of value
Both inspirationism and the discourse of the sublime dissented from
a philosophical culture which, by the ¬rst decades of the eighteenth
century, was confronting and processing the principles laid out in John
Locke™s ± An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. The notion of
mental creation itself leads a marginal half-life throughout the age of
Pope and Johnson, potentially subversive and in a constant state of ten-
sion with many of the leading philosophical ideas of the period. The
¬rst of these “ the theory of representative realism “ lies at the heart
of Locke™s epistemology. Put simply, the claims made by this thesis are:
¬rst, the realist one that there is a world the existence of which does not
depend upon experience; second, the argument that our perception of
that world is dependent upon it affecting us (in a causal way); and third,
the representational theory that we only have indirect apprehension of that
world; that is, that we have no knowledge of reality which is unmediated
by ideas.µ° Representative realism leaves its mark on practically all em-
piricist thought in the eighteenth century (Berkeley and Hume included),
and even manages to survive (though in a modi¬ed form) Thomas Reid™s
sustained campaign against it.
More importantly, however, it is this doctrine which proves to be most
vulnerable to the epistemic implications of a robust theory of artistic
creation, effectively placing the mind in a relation of dependency to an
object of perception to which it has only indirect access. In particular,
Locke is quite categorical on the causality of perception: ideas of sen-
sation, he asserts, ˜are the Impressions that are made on our Senses by
Outward Objects, that are extrinsical to the Mind [. . .]™.µ± Sensation and
re¬‚ection, then, are ˜the only Originals, from whence all our Ideas take
their beginnings™.µ The most important corollary of this principle is that
in perception, ˜the Understanding is meerly passive™ and unable to produce
new, simple ideas:
These simple Ideas, when offered to the mind, the Understanding can no more refuse
to have, or alter, when they are imprinted, nor blot them out, and make new
ones in it self, than a mirror can refuse, alter, or obliterate the Images or Ideas,
which, the Objects set before it, do therein produce.µ
 Knowledge and Indifference in English Romantic Prose
Locke, of course, recognizes that certain operations of the human mind
prove the limitations of the ˜blank sheet of paper™ simile. ˜Memory™,
for instance, ˜signi¬es no more but this, that the Mind has a Power,
in many cases, to revive Perceptions, which it has once had, with this
additional Perception annexed to them, that it has had them before™.µ It
is important, however, to distinguish this (limited) psychological activity
from an epistemic activity, in the sense that truth itself is something
made. This is discounted by Locke in his consistent adherence to the
principle that knowledge must correspond to objects as the effect to the
cause. Locke equates his sense of psychological activity with ˜Wit™, which
˜lying most in the assemblage of Ideas, and putting them together with
quickness and variety™, is distinguished from ˜Judgement™, which ˜lies quite
on the other side, in separating carefully, one from another, Ideas [. . .]
thereby to avoid being misled by Similitude [. . .]™. Wit, though it ˜strikes
so lively on the Fancy™, is not to be trusted, as ˜there is required no
labour of thought, to examine what Truth or Reason there is in it. The
Mind without looking any farther, rests satis¬ed with the agreeableness
of the Picture [. . .].™µµ Here we reach the nub of the problem: while
Locke™s empiricism is comfortable with, and even requires, a synthetic
capability of the mind, it cannot permit that such syntheses might be
independently true, much less produce truth. Consequently, Locke often
struggles to articulate in just what the power of judgement consists.
By stressing the role of judgement Locke is trying to avoid a route
notoriously taken by Hobbes. In Leviathan, Hobbes argued that, as sense-
experience was nothing but the effect of material encounters between
the sense-organs and the outside world, which set off a train of thoughts
in the mind and became, when the stimulus was removed, ˜decaying sense™
or imagination, then mental discourse or understanding itself could be
nothing other than a kind of imagination, and reason the same trans-
ferred into verbal form.µ Truth, in other words, is merely nominal: a
matter of words.µ· To Hobbes, Locke™s concern about association would
have made no sense, as ˜[n]atural sense and imagination are not subject
to absurdity. Nature itself cannot err™ “ only language leads us astray.µ
If Hobbes provides a clearer illustration than Locke of the implications
of nakedly causal theories of perception, he does so too with regard
to representationalism. The ¬rst lines of the ¬rst chapter of Leviathan
declare that, singly, the thoughts of man ˜are every one a representation
or appearance, of some quality or other accident, of a body without us
[. . .]™.µ The epistemological consequences of this for Hobbes are clear.
With characteristic terseness, Hobbes maps out the fork that Hume was

The eighteenth century
later to wield with such devastating effect. There can only be two kinds
of knowledge, he claims; empirical ˜knowledge of fact™, or of ˜sense and
memory™; and ˜knowledge of the consequence of one af¬rmation to another™, or
˜science™, such as geometrical truth.° Knowingly or not, in the Essay,
Locke follows Hobbes in accepting that ˜We can have Knowledge no farther
than we have Ideas™,± but cannot accept that truth itself is merely nominal.
The ˜conformity between our [simple] Ideas and the reality of Things™,
he claims, is guaranteed providentially, or ˜by the Wisdom and Will of
our Maker™. Ultimately, truth is the gift of God.
At the same time, Locke gave powerful impetus to the discourse
of creation in the eighteenth century. By dispensing with all talk of
˜substances™ and equating identity with consciousness, his own brand
of idea- empiricism paved the way for the development of philosophical
subjectivism. However, it is equally certain that in attempting to rescue
some notion of universal truth from the wreck of innatism by emphasiz-
ing the distinction between the mere ˜play™ of wit or imagination, and the
authority of judgement, he contributed to a general climate of hostility
towards imagination. Yet again, by its tendency to give the testimony of
sense more weight than that of judgement and reason, idea-empiricism
(or representative realism) seemed to undermine certain concepts “ prin-
cipally that of the operation of necessary laws within the natural world,
but also those of identity, and objectivity in judgements of morals and
taste. This is precisely the observation made by Hume, who (particularly
if one considers his in¬‚uence upon Kant) becomes a pivotal ¬gure for
any consideration of the agon of knowledge and creation as it evolved
through an ailing empirical tradition and into Romanticism.
In a sense, Hume takes representative realism to its logical conclusion.
In A Treatise of Human Nature (±·“°), he sets out from the proposition
˜[t]hat all our simple ideas in their ¬rst appearance are deriv™d from simple impressions,
which are correspondent to them, and which they exactly represent™.µ Consequently,
there can be no difference in kind between sensation and ideas: instead,
˜[t]he difference betwixt these consists in the degrees of force and live-
liness, with which they strike upon the mind, and make their way into
our thought or consciousness™“ sensation generally being ˜livelier™ than
its ideas. This distinction is extended within the realm of ideas itself,
where Hume observes that ˜the ideas of the memory are much more
lively and strong than those of the imagination™, where ˜the perception
is faint and languid [. . .]™. However, the imagination has at least one
redeeming feature: it is ˜not restrain˜d to the same order and form with
the original impressions; while the memory is in a manner ty™d down in
° Knowledge and Indifference in English Romantic Prose
that respect [. . .]™.· Upon this observation, Hume builds his theory of
association: the principles by which ideas are connected cannot, he rea-
sons, be radically different to those by which sensations are connected.
Thus:

This uniting principle among ideas is not to be consider™d as an inseparable
connexion; for that has been already excluded from the imagination [. . .] we
are only to regard it as a gentle force, which commonly prevails [. . .]. The
qualities, from which this association arises, and by which the mind is after this
manner convey™d from one idea to another, are [. . .] Resemblance, Contiguity
in time or place, and Cµ  and E¦¦  . 

That which to Locke was a kind of madness becomes, in Hume™s
hands, the basis of reason itself: as he later puts it, ˜all probable reasoning
is nothing but a species of sensation™. It follows from this that Locke™s
carefully drawn distinction between judgement and wit is collapsed: ˜™Tis
not solely in poetry and music, we must follow our taste and sentiment,
but likewise in philosophy. When I am convinc™d of any principle, ™tis only
an idea, which strikes more strongly upon me.™ This comes at a price,
however. Hume concludes that ˜[o]bjects have no discoverable connexion
together; nor is it from any other principle but custom operating upon
the imagination, that we can draw any inference from the appearance
of one to the existence of another.™ In other words, ˜[f ]rom the mere
repetition of any past impression, even to in¬nity, there will never arise any
new original idea, such as that of a necessary connexion [. . .].™ In his
sustained pursuit of the logical implications of representative realism,
Hume has ¬nally arrived at a point where concepts of natural law seem
to be little more than beguiling ¬ctions “ necessary ¬ctions perhaps,
but ¬ctions nonetheless. Nor does Hume leave off there. If the law-like
operation of the world as described by reason is illusory, then it follows
that other notions licensed by reason are every bit as ¬ctional. Once
Locke™s idea of judgement has been eroded by sensation-empiricism, for
example, the integrity of consciousness appears to crumble, and identity
itself is impeached. Hume concludes that man is incapable of knowing
himself as a uni¬ed being. He is, indeed, the sum of ˜nothing but a bundle
or collection of different perceptions, which succeed each other with an
inconceivable rapidity, and are in a perpetual ¬‚ux and movement™.·°
In this way, Hume™s division, noted earlier, of all knowable phenomena
into ˜Matters of Fact™ and ˜Relations of Ideas™ can now be seen to stem
from his theory that every idea is derived either from a corresponding
impression or from a composition of simpler ideas which are themselves
±
The eighteenth century
derived from corresponding impressions. Hume discusses this dualism
in the opening passage of Section Four of the Enquiry Concerning Human
Understanding:
All the objects of human reason or enquiry may naturally be divided into two
kinds, to wit, Relations of Ideas, and Matters of Fact. Of the ¬rst kind are the
sciences of Geometry, Algebra, and Arithmetic; and in short, every af¬rmation
which is either intuitively or demonstratively certain. [. . .] Propositions of this
kind are discoverable by the mere operation of thought, without dependence
on what is anywhere existent in the universe. [. . .] Matters of fact, which are
the second objects of human reason, are not ascertained in the same manner;
nor is our evidence of their truth, however great, of a like nature with the
foregoing. The contrary of every matter of fact is still possible; because it can
never imply a contradiction, and is conceived by the mind with the same facility
and distinctness, as if ever so conformable to reality.·±

Consequently, for Hume all that is knowable must fall on one side or
the other of the fork of non-existential and self-evident or demonstrable
propositions (expressing the relations of ideas) and existential proposi-
tions which are neither self-evident nor demonstrable (expressing matters
of fact). There is no crossing this fork. Any statement purporting to ex-
press a self-evident existential proposition, for instance, is for Hume quite
groundless. The ¬rst sphere to fall foul of Hume™s fork, then, is that of
value judgements, and in particular the moral imperative disguised as
statement of fact “ or as Hume puts it, the ˜ought™ statement lurking
among ˜is™ statements “ which is often to be found in works of moral
philosophy, and whose veracity, Hume argues in the Treatise, ought to be
questioned:
For as this ought, or ought not, expresses some new relation or af¬rmation, ™tis
necessary that it shou™d be observ™d and explain™d; and at the same time that a
reason should be given, for what seems altogether inconceivable, how this new
relation can be a deduction from others, which are entirely different from it.·

Hume, of course, has his own answer to this puzzle, which is that
˜when you pronounce any action or character to be vicious, you mean
nothing, but that from the constitution of your nature you have a feeling
or sentiment of blame from the contemplation of it™.· We shall return to
this answer in a moment. As far as knowledge is concerned, however, the
domain of value lies beyond reach. At the same time, the fork of ˜fact™
and ˜relations of ideas™ is an unequal one. Rationalist philosophy had
traditionally attempted to resolve the former into the latter. Hume was
aware, however, that philosophers such as Spinoza and Leibniz, despite
 Knowledge and Indifference in English Romantic Prose
their claims to deductive thoroughness, ultimately grounded their deduc-
tions on self-evident propositions, or axioms, the truth of which could not
be demonstrated merely in terms of the logical relations of the ideas in-
volved, but which, if accepted as merely factual, could no longer function
as the foundations of the system of necessary knowledge these philoso-
phers envisaged. One such premise, and perhaps the most important, is
what Leibniz calls the principle of suf¬cient reason, or the proposition
that there is a reason or explanation for every event which occurs.· This
is the kind of purportedly existential but necessary proposition that Kant
was later to identify as synthetic a priori and in need of transcendental,
rather than logical, deduction. To Hume, however, the related claim that
˜every event has a cause™ was either factual and therefore contingent or,
by striving for necessity, fell between the fork of knowledge. Either way,
any edi¬ce of reasoning built upon it was doomed to collapse. In this
way, he was able to maintain that since ˜all our ideas are copy™d from our
impressions™, by extension all reasoning is itself ¬nally based on the induc-
tive and factual.·µ With this, Hume linked the fates of epistemic and moral
certainty by casting both as dubiously ˜value-added™ to experience. By so
doing, he not only proscribed traditional metaphysics, but effectively
alienated his own philosophy from the unre¬‚ective thought of ordinary
life which implicitly traded upon synthetic a priori propositions as stable
currency.
Hume himself was acutely aware of this, but there is continued dis-
agreement in the immense literature on Hume as to what he chose to
do about it. One of the twentieth century™s most in¬‚uential views was
that of Norman Kemp Smith, who argued that Hume™s intention in the
Treatise was always to obviate epistemological scepticism concerning the
possibility of justi¬cation of belief with a naturalistic description of human
belief, according to which ˜we retain a degree of belief, which is suf¬cient for
our purpose, either in philosophy or common life™ “ a line of thought extended
by Reid.· More recent commentators, however, working in the wake
of Quine™s attack on the analytic/synthetic dichotomy (a modernized
version of Hume™s fork), have questioned whether scepticism can be so
easily tamed without abnegating epistemology, perhaps even philosophy,
altogether. Robert Fogelin, for example, argues that Hume™s scepticism
is so comprehensive that naturalism coheres with it only by postulating
that philosophizing, and by extension philosophical scepticism, are them-
selves ˜natural™ human conditions. However, this means the suspension
of epistemology as much as naturalism, and the holding of both in an un-
easy alliance: ˜The mitigated skepticism that Hume recommends is the

The eighteenth century
causal product of two competing in¬‚uences: Pyrrhonian doubt on one
side, natural instinct on the other. We do not argue for mitigated skep-
ticism; we ¬nd ourselves in it.™·· H. O. Mounce, meanwhile, agrees,
claiming that Kemp Smith con¬‚ates two kinds of incompatible natu-
ralism: one, that of Hume and eighteenth-century Scottish philosophy,
which subordinated knowledge to belief, and another, that of scienti¬c
positivism, which presumes the possibility of a rational explanation of the
world. In other words, he ˜confuses epistemological naturalism, the view that
our knowledge depends on what is given us by nature, with metaphysical
naturalism, the view that there is no reality apart from the natural world™.
Consequently, there is no positivist route around scepticism for Hume,
just groundless belief, precipitating the passages of self-dramatizing
despair and irony which always threaten to run out of contol and sink
the author ˜in the scepticism from which he seeks to deliver us™.·
Certainly one of Hume™s responses to ¬nding empiricism unequal to
the task of sustaining knowledge was to divorce philosophical inquiry
from ordinary lived experience “ from dinner, backgammon and the
company of friends. From the perspective of the ˜common affairs of
life™, he observed, such speculations ˜appear so cold, and strain™d, and
ridiculous, that I cannot ¬nd in my heart to enter into them any farther™.·
It is precisely this voice of the quotidian, of ˜life™, which the Romantics
attempt to recover for a philosophical mode of thought which Hume
wished to con¬ne to the study or the academy. The pressing questions
after Hume are: how might certainty be made a part of the totality
of lived experience?; and can this reconciliation of fact and value be
effected within philosophy, or must philosophy itself take its place within
a more holistic context of knowing and being? English Romanticism
comes to de¬ne itself by its sense of its own equivocal response to this
problem of knowing, oscillating not between scepticism and naturalism,
but between knowledge and an indifference to knowing which might
encompass other (possibly supernatural) modes of being or ˜life™. In this
manner it seeks both to argue with and transcend the stark injunction,
with which Hume closes the Enquiry and I opened this chapter, to commit
˜to the ¬‚ames™ any volume containing neither factual nor logical truths.
Hume™s challenge still exercises philosophers today. For example, one
way of reading the recent debate between coherentists such as Quine,
Rorty and Davidson on one hand, and epistemological foundationalists
like Roderick Chisholm and Ernest Sosa on the other is as between dif-
ferent ways of overcoming the alienation of fact and value created by
Hume. The coherentist is apt to reject the division outright, arguing that
 Knowledge and Indifference in English Romantic Prose
the traditional notion that the justi¬cation of belief rests upon a neutral
non-epistemic ground which is somehow ˜given™ is a mistake. On the
contrary, knowledge is, in an epistemic sense, always already evaluative,
which is simply to say that there is no clear distinction between eval-
uative and non-evaluative propositions in the ¬rst place: for Davidson,
meaning itself is ˜contaminated by theory, by what is held to be true™.°
Moreover, any philosophy which is indifferent to this distinction may well
be led to call into question the need for an epistemology which purports
to seek the ˜ground™ of knowledge. Knowing becomes a matter of what
Rorty terms ˜conversation™ within a space of reasons rather than one
of ˜confrontation™ with a value-neutral reality.± Foundationalists, mean-
while, continue to preserve Hume™s distinction, and thus the traditional
questions of epistemology as subsequently evolved by Kant, by insisting
that the coherentist account ignores the irreducibly normative nature of
justi¬cation. For these thinkers, the avoidance of a more vicious division
within the value/fact dichotomy means accepting that in knowledge, just
as in morals and aesthetics, value is grounded in fact by virtue of what
Chisholm calls ˜the supervenient character of epistemic justi¬cation™. As
Ernest Sosa puts it: ˜All epistemic justi¬cation [. . .] derive[s] from what
is not epistemically evaluative.™
The con¬‚ict between these outlooks is already present in English
Romantic prose. But what has broadened and hardened as a debate
(or even a refusal of debate) between writers and between camps of
philosophers is played out as a localized tension within the work of indi-
vidual Romantic writers. Moreover, because one of the leading Romantic
strategies for evading Hume™s bifurcation is one of indifference to know-
ing, denying the value of certainty per se, close reading will have to be
sensitive to how this peculiar gambit merely reproduces the same prob-
lem on new and different levels, as foundational ˜knowledge™ is repressed,
only to reappear (to adapt an image of de Man™s) like the Hydra™s head,
once more.
In the meantime, it testi¬es either to the con¬dence or the anxiety
of Hume™s age and that of later eighteenth-century thought that many
writers chose either to ignore Hume™s ¬ndings or adopt and incorporate
aspects of his language without acknowledging their implications. One
quarter where this was not the case, however, was that of Hume™s own
country, Scotland, where Thomas Reid took his conclusions seriously
enough to attempt to eradicate scepticism by destroying its roots, namely
the ˜idea™ philosophy, or representative realism of Descartes and Locke,
and installing naturalism in its stead. Before proceeding to a discussion
µ
The eighteenth century
of the common sense school, however, one must step back for a mo-
ment to register the earlier work of Hutcheson, and the in¬‚uence upon
eighteenth-century thought, and ultimately the Romantics, exercised by
his theory of ˜inner sense™.

Inner sense: Hutcheson
Hutcheson™s An Inquiry into the Original of our Ideas of Beauty and Virtue has
long since secured its place in intellectual history as the ¬rst attempt
by a British writer to develop, as an independent intellectual exercise, a
systematic theory of beauty. In it, Hutcheson seeks to modify Locke™s epis-
temology by adapting his theory of secondary qualities to Shaftesbury™s
notion of aesthetic intuition. Where Locke and Hume see secondary
qualities as epistemologically risky (depending upon a contingent rela-
tion between the perceiver and the perceived, rather than a property
inhering in the object itself ), Hutcheson, pursuing a line of argument
which was to be followed by Reid, strengthens the veridicality of our
perception of secondary qualities by explaining them in terms of our
natural disposition to be determined in certain law-like ways “ which are
themselves intimately linked with our pleasure-responses. Observing ini-
tially that ˜[t]here is scarcely any Object which our Minds are employ™d
about, which is not thus constituted the necessary Occasion of some Plea-
sure or Pain™,µ Hutcheson proposes that if those ˜Determinations to be
pleas™d with any Forms, or Ideas which occur to our Observation™ are
what constitute sense in general, then the ˜Power of perceiving the Beauty
of Regularity, Order, Harmony™ and so on, is ˜I®  ®¬ S ®  ™. In all of
this, he expresses con¬dence ˜[t]hat there is some Sense of Beauty natural
to Men™. Unlike Locke™s version, internal sense (of secondary qualities)
is an immediate and veridical intuition, no less authentic than external
sense, though quite distinct from it. It is this distinctness, moreover, which
underlies Hutcheson™s contrast of absolute or original beauty, as opposed
to comparative or relative beauty:
Only let it be observ™d, that by Absolute or Original Beauty, is not understood
any Quality suppos™d to be in the Object, which should of itself be beautiful,
without any relation to any Mind which perceives it: For Beauty, like other
Names of sensible Ideas, properly denotes the Perception of some Mind; so Cold,
Hot, Sweet, Bitter, denote the Sensations in our Minds, to which perhaps there
is no Resemblance in the Objects, which excite these Ideas in us, however we
generally imagine otherwise [. . .]. We therefore by Absolute Beauty understand
only that Beauty, which we perceive in Objects without Comparison to any thing
external, of which the Object is suppos™d an Imitation, or Picture [. . .].·
 Knowledge and Indifference in English Romantic Prose
Again, like Shaftesbury, Hutcheson is at pains to deny that he is at-
tempting to smuggle in a rehabilitated innatist theory by the back door:
˜an internal Sense no more presupposes an innate Idea, or Principle of
Knowledge, than the external™. Unlike his mentor, however, he does
not con¬‚ate the inner sense for beauty with moral sense, though he
does see them as linked: ˜T© moral Sense™, he writes, ˜has this in common
with our other Senses, that however our Desire of Virtue may be coun-
terbalanc™d by Interest, our Sentiment or Perception of its Beauty cannot
[. . .].™° This takes on some signi¬cance in the course of his later dis-
cussion of poetry. In poetry, he claims, ˜the most moving Beautys bear
a Relation to our moral Sense, and affect us more vehemently, than the
Representations of natural Objects in the liveliest Descriptions™. ±
Ingenious as it was, Hutcheson™s optimistic appropriation and re-
fashioning of Locke™s secondary qualities along the lines of Shaftes-
bury™s inner sense was unsustainable if left without any other support
than that of empiricist epistemology. In the absence of some gratuitous
non-empirical principle of veri¬cation, secondary qualities would always
appear compromised by their inherently subjective component. Worse,
when unwound into a general epistemology, as in Hume, they seemed
to give rise to an unacceptable scepticism. As a result, though of con-
siderable in¬‚uence, inner sense has an uneasy passage through later
British philosophy, accepted by some, such as Kames and Blair (though
with modi¬cations), but rejected by associationists such as Gerard and
Jeffrey. As a weapon against scepticism, moreover, it was to be super-
seded by Thomas Reid™s commonsensism.

Common sense: Reid
Before Kant had been roused from his ˜dogmatic slumbers™, Reid had

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