The Drama of Reason
Chapter 2: Coleridge’s Common Sense
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Coleridge’s Common Sense
In this chapter I remain with Coleridge and The Triumph of Love, to consider the concept of ‘common sense’, or sensus communis, as a foundation for Hill’s attempts to ‘attain objectivity’. Shaftesbury, who to my mind is the unacknowledged legislator of Coleridge’s and Hill’s Keatsian demand that philosophy’s axioms be proved upon our pulses, has an essay titled ‘Sensus Communis: An Essay on the Freedom of Wit and Humour’, in which the antiphonal voice plays a large role:
Vicissitude is a mighty Law of Discourse, and mightily long’d for by Mankind. In matter of Reason, more is done in a minute or two, by way of Question and Reply, than by a continu’d Discourse of whole Hours.1
Shaftesbury’s argument is in part with Hobbes: rather than reason being a sovereign faculty prescribing the interactions of individuals, it ought to be conceived of as emerging from these interactions. This does not mean, he emphasizes, that sensus communis entails a uniformity of opinion; rather it is a recognition of the shared interests and sentiments of human beings. In summarizing, he says that the commentators he has cited
make this Common Sense of the Poet […] to signify Sense of Publick Weal, and of the Common Interest; Love of the Community or Society, natural Affection, Humanity, Obligingness, or that sort of Civility which rises from a just Sense of the common Rights of Mankind, and...
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