The Discourse of the Mind in Eighteenth-Century Fiction by John A. Dussinger

By John A. Dussinger

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But Lord Kames, a prominent judge who could dispatch a fellow chess-player to the gallows with a malicious quip, was predisposed to an unquestionable authority in the moral sense theory: "we are so constituted, as to perceive a right and wrong in actions. And this is what strongly characterises the laws which govern the actions of mankind. . "5® If we were not so constituted, the theory continues implicitly, what would be the rationale for judging the actions of other men? Whatever their different motives, the associationists thought at least that they could explain much of what had passed as a mystery in the 'moral sense' school.

John Sergeant consequently uses his principle of reflection to show that all consciousness is past event: Whence it comes, that, not aware of the imperceptible Time between them, we are apt to conceit, that the Reflex Act is experientially known by the very Act it self. Since then, nothing can be known by any Act but the Object of that Act, and, (as might easily be shown) it would Confound our Natural Notions strangely, to say, the Act is its own Object·, it follows, that it cannot be known by its self, but must be known (if at all) by the next Reflexion,27 Since being is something constantly to be recalled from previous events, the self is only the object of reflection.

For this reason, Marcus Aurelius commands himself, "Efface imagination! "44 By the eighteenth century, however, to banish the imagination is to destroy the whole life of the mind. What Hobbes had defined as "decaying sense" is now central to organizing the sensations and perceptions, though its dangerous prevalence, as Rasselas suggests, could also compound the confusion of signs. Tristram's pronouncement that "Reason is half of it, Sense", and Hume's, that reason is and ought to be the slave of the passions cut across the traditional authority of Right Reason.

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