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marshalled an anti-sceptical response to Hume in his ±· An Inquiry into
the Human Mind, on the Principles of Common Sense, which was to be followed
two decades later by the Essays on the Intellectual Powers of Man (±·µ) and
the Essays on the Active Powers of Man (±·). In the Inquiry™s dedication
(to the Chancellor of the ˜University of Old Aberdeen™, where Reid had
been a lecturer since ±·µ±) he claims ˜that I never thought of calling in
question the principles commonly received with regard to the human
understanding, until the Treatise of human nature was published, in the
year ±·™. What follows is an attempted rebuttal, not just of Hume, but
of the presumption in general that philosophical argument must always
override the testimony of common sense, regardless of how powerful or
compelling that may be. Reid mounts a naturalistic attack on the theory
·
The eighteenth century
of ideas and representative accounts of perception as they appear in
thinkers from Descartes to Hume, and “ signi¬cantly for the purpose
here “ in the course of so doing attempts to replace it with an account
of the mind™s active role in perception.
The phrase ˜common sense™ was far from being novel in ±·.
Shaftesbury had advised that ˜with respect to Morals; Honesty is like to
gain little by Philosophy, or deep Speculations of any kind. In the main,
™tis best to stick to Common Sense, and go no further.™ In the eighteenth
century, no less than today, the term carried more than a suggestion of
impatience with speculative or philosophical thought. Reid™s invocation
of the notion, however, was no more a mere vulgar appeal to consensual
opinion than Shaftesbury™s. What was offensive about recent philosophy
to Reid was that it was inherently self-destructive, undermining notions
which were the very cornerstones of knowledge; in such a way, as Hume
had found, as to question the premises and procedure of that philosophy
itself. The ¬rst principle of commonsensism, then, was one which re-
versed the burden of proof, and stipulated that philosophical explana-
tions must be adequate to everyday knowledge, or a reasonable network
of beliefs. For something to count as ˜everyday knowledge™, Reid laid
down certain criteria, the foremost of which were that it should receive
universal assent; that it could not be open to contradiction without
absurdity; that it should be morally or practically indispensable; and
(something which he continually af¬rmed throughout his writing) that
it must be embedded in ordinary language. As he puts it in Essays on
the Intellectual Powers of Man, ˜whatever we ¬nd common to all languages,
must have a common cause; must be owing to some common notion or
sentiment of the human mind™.µ
Most tellingly, Reid™s critique of recent philosophy takes the form of
an assault on theories of perception as representation. In the Dedication
of the Inquiry, he claims that he was led by Hume™s conclusion to question
its basic premises, and above all the ˜ancient™ one ˜[t]hat we do not really
perceive things that are external, but only certain images and pictures of
them imprinted upon the mind, which are called impressions and ideas™, but
from which ˜I cannot [. . .] infer the existence of any thing else™. For this,
ultimately damaging assumption, ˜I could ¬nd no solid proof.™ In the
Essays, he proposes instead that when ˜in common language, we speak
of having an idea of any thing, we mean no more by that expression, but
thinking of it™.·
To this negative argument, however, Reid hitches a positive thesis
about the nature of perception. Having denied that we gain our knowl-
edge of such things as identity from comparing ideas passively received
 Knowledge and Indifference in English Romantic Prose
from without, he suggests that knowledge is derived rather from ˜judge-
ments of nature™; which are ˜immediately inspired by our constitution™,
and merely prompted or suggested by sensation. He illustrates this
point with an example of smelling a rose:

[T]he smell of a rose signi¬es two things. First, A sensation, which can have no
existence but when it is perceived, and can only be in a sentient being or mind.
Secondly, It signi¬es some power, quality, or virtue, in the rose [. . .] which hath a
permanent existence, independent of the mind [. . .] By the original constitution
of our nature, we are both led to believe, that there is a permanent cause of the
sensation [. . .] and experience determines us to place it in the rose.

In this matter, he continues, the Aristotelians ˜came nearer to the truth,
in holding the mind to be in sensation partly passive and partly active,
than the moderns, in af¬rming it to be purely passive™.±°° Basic concep-
tions of things, then, arise from original faculties, or innate powers of the
mind, in response to external stimulus. However, the most important
aspect of this for Reid is that intentional acts such as perceiving a rose
are about something; in other words, they imply the existence of something
other than the perceiver. He af¬rms this in the Essays (as usual, resting
his case on language): ˜The operations of our minds are denoted, in all
languages, by active transitive verbs, which, from their constitution in
grammar, require [. . .] an object of the operation.™ Consequently, when
divorced from the impressions of sensation, ˜we may conceive or imagine
what has no existence [. . .]. Every man knows that it is as easy to conceive
a winged horse or a centaur, as it is to conceive a horse or a man.™±°± By
asserting the activity of the mind in perception itself, Reid is clearing a
way for Kant.
However, it was one thing to replace a worn-out epistemology of ideas
with a naturalistic account of belief and common sense, but quite another
to challenge philosophy™s dualism of subject and object. Reid™s account
of the power of the mind to perceive objects without the mediation of
ideas or representations should not be read as implying that knowledge is
inherently subjective in the Kantian sense, viz. that for perception itself to
be possible, objects must conform to our experience, rather than vice versa.
Still less should it be seen as questioning the boundaries of subjectivity
and objectivity. Indeed, Reid remains highly suspicious of imagination™s
capacity to interfere with the raw materials of knowledge. For example,
he is opposed to all forms of reasoning by hypothesis, dismissing them as
˜the reveries of vain and fanciful men, whose pride makes them conceive
themselves able to unfold the mysteries of nature by the force of their

The eighteenth century
genius™, adding that only what ˜can fairly be deduced from facts duly
observed, or suf¬ciently attested, is genuine and pure; it is the voice of
God, and no ¬ction of human imagination™.±° Yet even this pales beside
the attack upon the creative imagination launched in the Introduction
to the Inquiry:
It is genius, and not the want of it, that adulterates philosophy, and ¬lls it with
error and false theory. A creative imagination disdains the mean of¬ces of digging
for a foundation [. . .] it plans a design, and raises a fabric. Invention supplies
materials where they are wanting, and fancy adds colouring, and every be¬tting
ornament. The work pleases the eye, and wants nothing but solidity and a good
foundation. It seems even to vie with the works of nature, till some succeeding
architect blows it into rubbish, and builds as goodly a fabric of his own in its
place. Happily for the present age, the castle-builders employ themselves more
in romance than in philosophy.±°
What Reid demonstrates, above all, is that the profound uneasiness of
eighteenth-century thought with the concept creativity associated with
original genius “ an idea which, more than any other era, it fostered and
encouraged “ was not solely attributable to the legacy of Locke™s peculiar
idea-empiricism, or representative realism, but to a self-undermining
loop of logic within the empiricist discourse of genius in general. What
this amounted to was that, while from Hobbes onwards philosophy in
Britain fostered the development of faculty psychology, and thereby the
notion of the active, synthetic roles of the imagination and understanding
in building up the raw material of experience, it could not countenance
the idea that the products of these faculties (and imagination, above all)
might themselves return into the epistemic cycle, to be absorbed into the
data of what was ˜true™. Consequently, as the language of the passage
above con¬rms, even a relatively radical, anti-epistemological theory of
the mental powers such as Reid™s “ which attacks the representationalism
of the philosophy of ideas “ leaves empiricism™s foundationalism untouched.
Imagination may raise its buildings, and the poetic genius may be the
most imaginative (and therefore creative) of people, but, unrati¬ed by
experience, his constructions are follies which want ˜solidity and a good
foundation™.
Thus far three major facets of late seventeenth and eighteenth-century
philosophy have been discussed: representative realism, inner sense
theory, and naturalism or commonsensism. Though, for the sake of
concision, the analysis of these trends has tended to focus upon their
originators or chief exponents, it would not do to suggest that they were
always articulated so distinctly; or that they were not altered, developed
µ° Knowledge and Indifference in English Romantic Prose
or overlayed by these and subsequent theorists “ for evidence of which one
need only examine the work of an eclectic writer like Kames. Nor would
it be accurate to imply that they enjoyed equally successful careers “
and this despite the fact that each of the paradigms is still seen as suf¬-
ciently viable in some form or other by the end of the century for them
to in¬‚uence the Romantics. Inner sense theory, for instance, persists
in an ennervated form in later eighteenth-century philosophy, before
being transformed by Coleridge.±° Reid, meanwhile, shares with the
Romantics a post-Humean ambivalence regarding foundational philo-
sophy™s conception of ˜knowledge™, and in many ways strives towards
the same goal of recovering the ˜ordinary voice™ for philosophy; of re-
habilitating a by now thoroughly counter-intuitive empiricism with the
accepted certainties of everyday experience. But his unwillingness to test
the dualism of subject and object means that that philosophy, in the
form of an uneasy naturalism, largely retains its appointed role as the
master-discourse of the later Enlightenment. While Reid™s own ideas
certainly have a huge impact upon philosophy, particularly in Scotland,
the austerity of his naturalistic method, his objectivism, and his rejection
of all talk of ˜ideas™ was hardly designed to impress the Romantics. The
unacceptable price of naturalism for the Romantics, as Elridge observes,
is that we are forced to ˜abandon our sense of ourselves as free subjec-
tivities™.±°µ Consequently, Locke™s representative realism survives Reid™s
attack, ironically because it preserves a role for creative imagination
(albeit a subordinate one) where commonsensism represses creativity.
Nonetheless, though Reid™s translation of that experience as common
sense seems very distant from Coleridge™s highly complex construction of
˜feeling™, there remains a story to be told about how, thanks to Coleridge,
important lines of common sense philosophy ¬nd their way back into
English thought having ¬rst been ˜Germanized™ through Kant™s read-
ing of Reid and his followers. But that is not a story which concerns
us here.

Association: Hartley
National prejudice aside, the failure of Reid™s commonsensism to gain
any purchase on English Romantic thought is in part due to the impact
upon Romanticism of associationism “ or, more correctly, theories of the
association of ideas; since, as Martin Kallich has indicated, there were
many variants of this in circulation at the time. The present discussion
of associationism has been delayed for two reasons: ¬rst, because of
chronology (as Kallich notes, it was only in the wake of Hume that the
µ±
The eighteenth century
idea began to acquire legitimacy);±° and second, and more importantly,
because it is part of the present purpose to contest the notion, which
has become something of a commonplace in intellectual history, that
there was something natural or inevitable about how associationism both
emerged from empirical thought and fed into Romanticism. In fact,
associationism was a contentious issue in the mid and late eighteenth
century, and in certain forms clashed with many other signi¬cant ideas
such as inner sense or common sense.
As it is primarily concerned with the post-Humean fate of associa-
tionism, this study has little to add to Kallich™s thorough analysis of the
development of the idea prior to the seventeen forties. Following its initial,
rather ambivalent treatment at the hands of Hobbes and Locke, associ-
ationism takes on a shadowy role in the ¬rst decades of the eighteenth
century.±°· While quietly informing many of the period™s key assump-
tions, it remains an uncomfortable notion which is rarely named or
acknowledged directly. However, Hume™s argument in the Treatise con-
cerning the qualities resulting from his principle of association “ namely,
resemblance, contiguity and causality “ seemed to many to suggest the
possibility that association might be a natural and regular cognitive
process. This was despite the fact that Hume had made it clear that
his principle was itself the merely the product of observation, and that
separately or jointly, the qualities of association were ˜not to be con-
sider™d as an inseparable connexion™, but rather as ˜a gentle force, which
commonly prevails™.±°
Nonetheless, the question as to whether association was a regular or
random phenomenon was to divide thinkers after Hume. Most com-
mentators found the second proposition too much to swallow, and opted
for a hybrid theory of randomness sustained by an underlying regularity.
Those who interpreted associationism as a theory of arbitrary connec-
tion alone “ identi¬ed with Hume™s principle of association according to
contiguity in time “ often did so in order to oppose it more effectively.
Cutting across this debate is a second question, though it is seldom ac-
knowledged as a distinct one by the parties concerned: is association a
fundamental principle of knowledge, a condition (or even the condition)
of reasoning, or is it a psychological activity which is simply liable to
affect our knowledge, given certain conditions?±° As a rule, ˜random™
associationists, such as Hartley, tend to adopt the stronger, epistemolog-
ical thesis, while ˜regularists™ like Hutcheson and Kames, are generally
psychological associationists only.
Despite the fact that, in terms of the spread of associationism in
Scotland, Hume™s impact is considerably greater than that of Hartley, the
µ Knowledge and Indifference in English Romantic Prose
latter deserves special consideration, not only because of his well-known
in¬‚uence upon the early development of Coleridge™s thought, but be-
cause his version of the doctrine is one of the most uncompromising of
the epistemological forms of associationism. His purpose in Observations
on Man was, as Theodore Huguelet notes in his introduction to his fac-
simile edition, ˜to yoke Newton™s theory of vibrations and of the aether
to the principle of association of ideas as adumbrated by Locke and the
Reverend John Gay [. . .]™.±±° Hartley, like Locke, is a representationalist:
he believes that ideas are representations of the causally effective objects
of sensation.±±± However, whereas Locke sidesteps the issue of materiality,
Hartley attempts to confront it. To bridge the mind-body gap, he posits
the existence of a ˜subtle elastic Fluid™ through which in¬nitely small
vibrations are communicated between the material organs of sense and
the sensitive soul itself.±± In this way, he hopes to avoid the charge
that he is proposing a reductively materialist account of sensation.±±
Nonetheless, the early physiology of the Observations illustrates Hartley™s
materialism:
If we suppose an in¬nitesimal elementary Body to be intermediate between the
Soul and gross Body, which appears to be no improbable Supposition, then
the Changes in our Sensations, Ideas, and Motions, may correspond to the
Changes made in the medullary Substance, only as far as these correspond to
the Changes made in the elementary Body.±±

What distinguishes Hartleian associationism from Hume™s own ac-
count, however, is not simply the former™s concern with the physiology
of sensation, but his reduction of all association to one of Hume™s prin-
ciples: that of contiguity.±±µ Within this category, Hartley describes two
sub-groups: the synchronous, and the successive: ˜Thus the Sight of Part
of a large Building suggests the Idea of the rest instantaneously; and the
Sound of the Words which begin a familiar Sentence, brings the remain-
ing Part to our Memories in Order, the Association of the Parts being
synchronous in the ¬rst Case, and successive in the last.™±± It is impor-
tant to Hartley that association should depend upon contiguity, and not
any identi¬able qualities in ideas, as it is central to his argument that
association is itself prior to the formation of ideas. It is this implication
of association in the very process of perception which marks his form of
associationism as epistemological, rather than merely psychological:
Ideas, and miniature Vibrations, must ¬rst be generated [. . .] before they can
be associated [. . .]. But then [. . .] this Power of forming Ideas, and their corre-
sponding miniature Vibrations, does equally presuppose the Power of Association. For
µ
The eighteenth century
since all Sensations and Vibrations are in¬nitely divisible, in respect of Time
and Place, they could not leave any Traces or Images of themselves, i.e. any
Ideas, or miniature Vibrations, unless their in¬nitesimal Parts did cohere
together through joint Impression; i.e. Association.±±·

With these premises combined, Hartley is committed to a theory of
human perception which is at once deterministic and radically associ-
ationist.±± Human knowledge and experience can amount to nothing
more than the associations of contiguous vibrations of the aether. For ex-
ample, in his explanation of the nature of the ˜Passions™, he remarks that
˜our Passions or Affections can be no more than Aggregates of simple
Ideas united by Association [. . .]™.±± Moreover, since ˜all Desire and
Aversion, are factitious, and generated by Association; i.e. mechanically;
it follows that the Will is mechanical also™.±° This has serious repercus-
sions for his moral theory, and causes him some discomfort when treating
the subject of freedom. Like Hobbes, Hartley opposes the philosophical
notion of free will with a theory of freedom as consisting in free action.
This ˜popular and practical Sense™, he claims, ˜is not only consistent
with the Doctrine of Mechanism, but even ¬‚ows from it™; namely, ˜if
Free-will be de¬ned the Power of doing what a Person desires or wills to
do [. . .]™.±±
With this unfortunate ability to appear both deterministic and ran-
domizing, few philosophers were willing to embrace Hartley™s theory that
association was a condition of the formation of simple ideas, preferring
instead to accept it as a more regular psychological phenomenon which
affected perception. Locke himself had suggested something along these
lines when he noted in the Essay ˜how the Mind, by degrees, improves in
these [simple ideas], and advances to the Exercise of those other faculties
of Enlarging, Compounding, and Abstracting its Ideas [. . .]™.± Less regular
forms of association, meanwhile, were cited as instances or causes of
error. Hutcheson, for instance, deploys the notion to explain away the
apparent vagaries of taste in the Inquiry: given that the laws by which
simple ideas are raised in people by objects are the same, he argues that
˜in the same Person, when his Fancy at one time differs from what it
was at another [. . .] we shall generally ¬nd that there is some accidental
Conjunction of a disagreeable Idea, which always recurs with the Object
[. . .]™.±
The march of associationism, then, was far from being a steady one.±
Nonetheless, Hume™s in¬‚uence in the later eighteenth century was such
that, despite the dissenting voice of Reid, practically every theorist felt
compelled to acknowledge the process, particularly with respect to how it
µ Knowledge and Indifference in English Romantic Prose
seemed to explain the synthetic, constructive capacity of the mind, and
thereby the progress of knowledge. Some, such as Alexander Gerard,
attempted to turn the doctrine into a full-blown account of original
genius. Gerard was also the ¬rst to adapt Hume™s connection of the
emotions and the associative imagination to a theory of artistic creation;
a connection which was to be extended by Archibald Alison to explain
the nature of taste. By the time it enters into the discourse of English
Romanticism, then, associationism is connoted both with physiological
necessity and the implicit creativity of contingent connection.


   ©®     §©®  :    ©    ¦  © § © ® ¬ §  ®© µ
In a sketchy way, I have attempted to outline the manner in which seven-
teenth and eighteenth-century empiricism encouraged a view of the
mind™s creative power which itself came to threaten that philosophy™s no-
tion of truth as representation (or, in Reid™s case, as direct apprehension).
At the same time, its af¬nity with the older doctrine of poetic inspiration,
as well as with a more voguish notion of the sublime, meant that the dis-
course of mental creation persisted, albeit in the margins of eighteenth-
century philosophical thought. The point at which this notion most
closely approaches the centre, however, remains to be considered, and
that is through the cult of original genius. Here, once again, one ¬nds that
in Britain the earliest encouragement for this idea came from modi¬ca-
tions to the notion of artistic imitation which were themselves wrought
by increasingly empirical modes of thinking.


Imitation ancient and natural
In many ways empiricism encouraged a more libertarian view of the
artist™s craft. The traditional positive sense of ˜imitation™ as the emulation
of ancient writers had never been entirely secure within the British liter-
ary tradition. In his ±µ° preface to Gondibert, Davenant had complained
that ˜[s]uch limits to the progress of every thing . . . doth Imitation give;
for whilst we imitate others, we can no more excel them, then he that
sailes by others Mapps can make a new discovery [. . .]™.±µ Moreover,
inevitably any normative theory of classical imitation had always sooner
or later to confront the problem of Shakespeare™s excellence. In a letter
to John Dennis, Dryden wrote that
µµ
The eighteenth century
I cannot but conclude with Mr. Rym “ that our English Comedy is far beyond
any thing of the Ancients. And notwithstanding our irregularities, so is our
Tragedy. Shakespear had a Genius for it; and we know, in spite of Mr R “ that
Genius alone is a greater Virtue (if I may so call it) than all other Quali¬cations
put together.±
By the middle of the eighteenth century, empiricism had all but erased
the vestiges of the notion that classical precedent represented an objec-
tive standard of literary value, and that the vocation of the poet was to
mimic the ancients or ancient rules. Gradually, this kind of activity began
to be designated as ˜copying™, rather than imitation proper. Burke™s con-
tribution to this trend with regard to the language of poetry has already
been registered. But even a relatively conservative voice such as that of
Kames fulminates in the Elements of Criticism against the ˜slavish™ imitation
of the ˜arbitrary™ dictates of the ancients, challenging the French critic
Bossuet to explain ˜if in writing they [the ancients] followed no rule, why
should they be imitated?™±· Adam Smith, meanwhile, has no hesitation
in dismissing pure copy as valueless, noting that ˜though a production
of art seldom derives any merit from its resemblance to another object
of the same kind, it frequently derives a great deal from its resemblance
to an object of a different kind [. . .]™.± Of course the doctrine retained
some adherents, the most notable of whom, famously, was Sir Joshua
Reynolds. As late as ±·· Reynolds is lecturing to the Royal Academy
˜that a painter must not only be of necessity an imitator of the works
of nature [. . .] but he must as necessarily be an imitator of the works
of other painters™ “ adding, ˜I will go further; even genius, at least what
generally is so called, is the child of imitation.™±
Moreover, the ancients aside, the presumption that the arts must con-
form to some kind of canon of rules was rather more dif¬cult to dislodge.
Thomas Rymer™s criticism of Shakespeare on Aristotelian grounds is
often portrayed as being something of a blind alley in the history of
English criticism, but though by the turn of the century few would agree
with his claim about ˜how unhappy the greatest English Poets have been
through their ignorance or negligence of these fundamental Rules and
Laws of Aristotle™,±° his conviction that poetry should be subject to prin-
cipled judgement, and therefore reducible to rules based on common
sense or reason, retained a powerful hold upon theorists. It has already
been shown that Dennis, for one, shared his concern that some kind of
benchmark for poetic ˜truth™ was necessary. But as the authority of classic
example receded, to be replaced by the testimony of experience, so the
µ Knowledge and Indifference in English Romantic Prose
theory of imitation shifted from being one which encouraged the artist
to follow the ancients, to one which prescribed the imitation of nature.
Dennis himself savaged Pope in A True Character of Mr. Pope, and His Writings
(±·±) for being ˜emphatically a Monkey, in his awkward servile Imitations.
For in all his Productions, he has been an Imitator, from his Imitation of
©§©¬ Bucolocks, to his present Imitation of .™ And yet he is
quite consistent throughout his career in maintaining that poetry is the
imitation of nature.±±
In line with this is Addison™s analysis of genius in Spectator No. ±°.
Addison admires such ˜great Genius™s [. . .] who by the meer Strength of
natural Parts, and without any Assistance of Art or Learning, have pro-
duced Works that were the Delight of their own Times and the Wonder
of Posterity™. Citing classical authors as examples, he adds that there is
˜something nobly wild and extravagant in these great natural Genius™s™
which excels in beauty the accomplishment of merely learned writers
(such as that of the moderns).± Nevertheless, even Addison hesitates to
subordinate this second class of genius, or ˜those that have formed them-
selves by Rules, and submitted the Greatness of their natural Talents to
the Corrections and Restraints of Art™, to the ¬rst. It is only when he
comes to the question of imitation that his true allegiance emerges, for
as he sees it, ˜[t]he great Danger in these latter kind of Genius™s, is, lest
they cramp their own Abilities too much by Imitation™, insofar as ˜[a]n

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