Book ID: CBB001251222

Victorian Empiricism: Self, Knowledge, and Reality in Ruskin, Bain, Lewes, Spencer, and George Eliot (2010)


Garratt, Peter (Author)

Fairleigh Dickinson Univ. Press

Publication Date: 2010
Physical Details: 244 pp.; ill.; bibl.; index
Language: English

Empiricism, one of Raymond William's keywords, circulates in much contemporary thought and criticism solely as a term of censure, a synonym for spurious objectivity or positivism. Yet rarely, if ever, has it had this philosophical implication. Dr Johnson, it should be recalled, kicked the stone precisely to expose empiricism's baroque falsifications of common sense. In an effort to restore historical depth to the term, this book examines epistemology in the narrative prose of five writers, John Ruskin, Alexander Bain, G. H. Lewes, Herbert Spencer, and George Eliot, developing the view that the flourishing of nineteenth-century scientific culture occurred at a time when empiricism itself was critically dismantling any such naive representationalism. -- Dr. Garratt argues that by the 1860s empiricism was both a dominant cultural language and a reflexive epistemic theory, producing a model of contingent selfhood conceived simultaneously as the route towards knowledge and its obstacle. For this reason, Victorian empiricism predicated its search for knowledge on a profound instability, one embodied within the textual language through which it sought its articulation. By examining familiar works, such as Ruskin's Modern Painters and George Eliot's fiction, alongside the voluminous psychological and philosophical prose of Bain, Lewes, and Spencer, he illustrates, using detailed examples, how the imperatives of empiricist thought shaped the aesthetic of realism, as well as nineteenth-century views towards perception, human embodiment, and relativism. In all cases, their works give shape to empiricism's skeptical impulse. In Ruskin, for example, the narrative journey into knowledge is one of haphazard progress and fraught autobiographical engagement; in Bain's psychology it forms a story of precarious accumulation; in Lewes and Spencer, sprawling form expresses the proliferating potential of knowledge itself. George Eliot's novels are read as interventions in, as well as commentaries on, this pre-disciplinary discourse, which emerges from the British philosophical tradition while being transformed by intellectual developments in evolutionary theory and nervous physiology. Victorian Empiricism will therefore appeal to students and researchers working in literary studies, history of science, and nineteenth-century interdisciplinary cultural history

Reviewed By

Essay Review Ebbatson, Roger (2012) Destabilising Empiricism. Metascience: An International Review Journal for the History, Philosophy and Social Studies of Science (pp. 347-349). unapi

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Authors & Contributors
Dixon, Thomas
Tansey, E. M.
Paxton, Nancy L.
Giuntini, Chiara
Currie, Richard A.
Rylance, Rick
Notes and Records: The Royal Society Journal of the History of Science
Rivista di Filosofia
Victorian Newsletter
Osiris: A Research Journal Devoted to the History of Science and Its Cultural Influences
Journal of the History of Ideas
19: Interdisciplinary Studies in the Long Nineteenth Century
Princeton University Press
Oxford University Press
Anthem Press
Harvard University
Bucknell University Press
Science and literature
Science and religion
Science and culture
Emotions; passions
Social sciences
Eliot, George
Spencer, Herbert
Lewes, George Henry
Bain, Alexander
Ruskin, John
Darwin, Charles Robert
Time Periods
19th century
20th century, early
20th century
Great Britain
British Isles
United States

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