Scepticism and Literature: An Essay on Pope, Hume, Sterne, and Johnson

Hardcover | April 7, 2004

byFred Parker

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'The more we enquire, the less we can resolve,' wrote Johnson. Scepticism-a reasoned emphasis on the severe limitations of rationality-would seem to undermine the grounds of belief and action. But in some of the best eighteenth-century literature, a theoretically paralysing critique of thepretensions of reason, precept, and language went hand in hand with a vigorous intellectual, moral, and linguistic confidence. To realise philosophical scepticism as literature was effectively to transform it. Dr Parker traces the presence of this life-giving irony in works by Pope, Hume, Sterne,and Johnson, relates it more broadly to the social self-consciousness of eighteenth-century culture, and discusses its source in Locke and its inspiration in Montaigne. The argument serves as a reminder that radical scepticism is not the invention of the late twentieth century, and that itsstrategies and implications have never been more interestingly explored than in the eighteenth.

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'The more we enquire, the less we can resolve,' wrote Johnson. Scepticism-a reasoned emphasis on the severe limitations of rationality-would seem to undermine the grounds of belief and action. But in some of the best eighteenth-century literature, a theoretically paralysing critique of thepretensions of reason, precept, and language we...

Fred Parker is a University Lecturer in English and a Fellow of Clare College, Cambridge. He is the author of Johnson's Shakespeare (OUP 1989 - paperback 1991).

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Format:HardcoverDimensions:300 pages, 8.5 × 5.43 × 0.8 inPublished:April 7, 2004Publisher:Oxford University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0199253188

ISBN - 13:9780199253180

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Table of Contents

PrefaceList of abbreviations1. Rational ignorance and sceptical thinking2. Sceptical tendencies in Locke's Essay concerning Human Understanding3. 'Sworn to no Master': Pope's scepticism in the Epistle to Bolingbroke and An Essay on Man4. Innocence and simulation in the scepticism of Hume5. Tristram Shandy: singularity and the single life6. Johnson's conclusivenessIndex

Editorial Reviews

"The great virtue of Fred Parker's Skepticism and Literature is to remind readers that many in the eighteenth century were more interested in curbing organized thought than in shouting it from the rooftopsThe prose is elegant, the wisdom affably pedestrian and secondhandSkepticism and Literature is the graceful repackaging of earlier commonplaces."--Modern Philology "Specialists in eighteenth-century literature will be informed most by the stylistic delicacy with which Parker distinguishes each of these figures from one another.... Parker gives us the best rationale I have read for why Pope's Essay on Man is a successful poem."--Michael McKeon, Studies in English Literature 1500-1900 "This important book explores some of the literary consequences of 18th-century Britain's interest in philosophical skepticism.... [Parker's] argument is convincing, and his close readings illuminate the works and authors he examines.... A major work of scholarship. Highly recommended."--Choice