Empiricism, one of Raymond Williams's keywords, circulates in much contemporary thought and criticism solely as a term of censure, a synonym for spurious objectivity or positivism. Yet rarely, if ever, has it had this philosophical implication. Dr. Johnson, it should be recalled, kicked the stone precisely to expose empiricism's baroque falsifications of common sense. In an effort to restore historical depth to this term, this book examines epistemology in the narrative prose of five writers, John Rushkin, Alexander Bain, G. H. Lewes, Herbert Spencer, and George Eliot, developing the view that the flourishing of nineteenth-century scientific culture occured at a time when empiricism itself was critically dismantling any such naive representationalism.
Peter Garratt is Lecturer in Nineteenth-Century Literature at Northumbria University in Newcastle, UK. He holds degrees from Durham University and the University of Edinburgh, and has published several articles on Victorian literature and culture exploring interactions between literary form and intellectual history. Victorian Empiricism is his first book.