English 203

Graduate Readings: British Empiricism, the Novel, and the Science of Man

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
5 Fall 2009 Duncan, Ian
Duncan, Ian
TTh 2-3:30 206 Wheeler

Other Readings and Media

Austen, J., Emma. Scott, W., Redgauntlet. Hugo, V., Notre-Dame de Paris. Dickens, C., Bleak House and A Tale of Two Cities. Eliot, G., Daniel Deronda. Hume, D., A Treatise of Human Nature and Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion. Smith, A., The Theory of Moral Sentiments; Burke, E., A Philosophical Inquiry into the Origin of our Ideas on the Sublime and the Beautiful; Malthus, T., An Essay on the Principle of Population; Darwin, C., The Origin of Species and The Descent of Man


The course will examine the conjunction of the novel and the main tradition of philosophical empiricism in Great Britain. In A Treatise of Human Nature (1739-40) David Hume gave the general project of Enlightenment philosophy the title “the Science of MAN”; in The Descent of Man (1871) Charles Darwin restructured that project under a definitively post-enlightenment science of life. This is also the classical epoch of the English novel, framed at one end by Henry Fielding’s claim that the novel is the modern genre best fitted for the representation of “Human Nature” (Tom Jones, 1749) and at the other by Henry James’s claim that the novel is at once “a direct impression of life” and itself “a living thing, all one and continuous, like every other organism” (“The Art of Fiction,” 1884). We will read a selection of novels written after 1800, as the science of man devolves into a host of competing disciplines, ideologies and theories. Exploring the links between questions of history (the history of man, of the world, of life) and form (aesthetics, taxonomy, “fitness”), we will also consider some major works of the empiricist tradition, in two clusters: around Hume (moral philosophy and aesthetics) and around Darwin (political economy and anthropology).

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