Shaftesbury: Conversation and the Psychology of Romance
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Isabel Rivers observes that, in contrast to the empirical or revelation-based tendencies of late seventeenth-century moral philosophy, ‘[t]he basis of Shaftesbury’s epistemology is psychological’.1 That Shaftesbury is principally a social psychologist, or an anatomist of the mind, in his own terminology,2 is perhaps clearest in the Soliloquy; or, Advice to an Author, the treatise in his collection Characteristics of Men, Manners, Opinions, Times (1711) that deals most obviously with the interior life. Shaftesbury declares ‘Authors at large’ to be ‘professed masters of understanding to the age’ (70). This unsurprising declaration of the social function of authorship, however, is qualified by his emphasis on soliloquy — the ability to ‘hold [ones]sel[f] in talk’ (77). Moreover, ‘great wits’, he says, are noted for their ‘great loquacity by themselves and their profound taciturnity in company’ (73), an odd statement for a man who was, first and foremost, a theorist of sociability.
KeywordsEighteenth Century Socratic Dialogue Early Eighteenth Dialogue Form Late Seventeenth
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