Category Archives: ESSAYS (

In Search of Sense and Sensibility

An Experiment in Publishing

I have posted the first draft of In Search of Sense and Sensibility online. This ‘book’ has been designed for the internet from its inception. It may get a paper incarnation but for now the idea is to develop it on the internet. As you would expect, there is no charge. Also there have been no editors and reviewers involved—that process starts now with you. A quick perusal will reveal that some aspects of it are more than a little experimental, and being experimental their fate is not clear.

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The Barbarians Inside the Gate

[This article has been adapted from a section of the preface to In Search of Sense and Sensibility.]

There is no question that we in the first world are the heirs of the great instigators of the scientific revolution and are the most successful people in history when it comes to understanding and shaping our physical environment, but does that make us the most civilised? It could be a matter of semantics—if that is taken as the definition of ‘civilised’ then the answer is trivially yes, but it is not at all clear that is what people mean when they assert that we are a great civilised people.

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Candour, Pride and Prejudice

The strange history of the word candour

[This is a lightly edited extract (missing some of the footnotes) of the section Candour of the chapter Austen Criticism (II).]

It has become the received wisdom of our contemporary culture that a discerning mind will endeavour to eliminate distorting, sentimental, generous, optimism from its outlook, and adopt more realistic attitudes that properly discern the selfishness that motivates actions (psychological egoism) and some have seen Austen’s programme as one of casting aside such sentimental blinkers. So it is worth considering whether Austen stands charged, as Elinor was in Mrs Dashwood’s eyes in Sense and Sensibility, of preferring to ‘take evil upon credit than good’ (Vol. 1, Ch. XV [15.28]).

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A Romantic Mystery Novel

Things are rarely quite as they seem in an Austen novel and so it is with Sense and Sensibility, that most anti-romantic of novels with its mocking of Marianne’s romantic philosophy and romantic conventions (the flying apart of Elinor and Edward when he is finally free to make his declaration), the hitching of the girls to the drippy Edward and the decrepit Colonel (in an arranged marriage), the minutiae of Elinor’s domestic cares and the strong emphasis placed on familial bonds at the close; the modern reader can scarcely suppress D. H. Lawrence’s suspicion that ‘this old maid’ is perhaps taking subconscious revenge for being denied romantic fulfilment.

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Emma’s Debt to Sense and Sensibility

[the first half of this article on Sense and Sensibility is a highly compressed encapsulation of Exploring Sense and Sensibility, and the second is concluding section of some notes on Emma. The join is not intended to be seamless, but to help provide an entry point for the book.]

While Emma (1815) is seen as Austen’s masterpiece, Sense and Sensibility (1811) is said to show ‘evidence of artistic immaturity’ (Duckworth (1994), p. 82, n. 1), but I beg to differ; it seems to show almost miraculous artistic maturity, that we are to this day still coming to terms with. Just as Austen’s first great critic, Scott (1815) reviewed Emma for John Murray only to finish with a sally at Sense and Sensibility that makes little sense, so his antecedents have been following in his footsteps, rightly celebrating the vastly superior technique of Emma, while failing to properly comprehend the debt that Emma owes to Jane Austen’s first-published novel, and not merely getting Austen established as a published authoress.

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The Modern Psyche

[This article contains the first two sections of Sentimentalism with the footnotes removed.]

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Trapped in the Cabinet of Horrors

[This article consists of the first two sections of the Conclusion of In Search of Sense and Sensibility, shorn of the footnotes.]

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Consciousness Really Explained?

Conclusion [full article]

No matter how many people try to explain some basic facts of science and philosophy, from James (1890) to Stapp (2007), the mechanistic idea that everything can be reduced to the cogs and wheels of physics has a tremendous grip on the modern mind, which is why this humble little thought experiment is proposed, being both concise and positivistic.

Strong cryptography allows information to be pickled so that a message can only be recovered with the application of a key. If that key is held in only a person’s mind then that person, using their mental faculties, can carry out a procedure that is otherwise impossible. This publicly observable phenomenon has no physical explanation nor is there any prospect of one appearing.

Its long overdue that scientific orthodoxy stopped trying to pretend that those mental faculties don’t exist, or can somehow be reduced or explained away. Only then will there be a chance of developing a truly-coherent scientific understanding of them.

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