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Sentiment and SociabilityThe Language of Feeling in the Eighteenth Century$
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John Mullan

Print publication date: 1990

Print ISBN-13: 9780198122524

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198122524.001.0001

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Sympathy and the Production of Society

Sympathy and the Production of Society

(p.18) 1 Sympathy and the Production of Society
Sentiment and Sociability

John Mullan

Oxford University Press

David Hume's reputation as the sardonic analyst of common beliefs, and of religious commitment in particular, has survived his own time to symbolize the iconoclasm of a retrospectively construed ‘Enlightenment’. Yet he is not merely the reasonable expositor of irrational prejudice, for his earliest and most ambitious work, the Treatise of Human Nature, addresses itself above all to the limitations of reason. As Hume sees it, passions are what drive humans to all action and achievement; reason and passion cannot even properly be seen as contending for domination with each other. Philosophy describes how illusion and imagination are the supports which nature requires, but it is led to admit that nature will always win out in the end. The philosophical project of theorizing sociability, that which sympathy makes possible, is not an isolated one. The universality of social understanding which Hume's philosophy of ‘human nature’ proposes is precisely what is questioned (and typically rejected) in the novel of sentiment.

Keywords:   David Hume, Enlightenment, Treatise of Human Nature, reason, passion, sentiment, sympathy, philosophy, sociability, human nature

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