Book Review

Piper, William Bowman. Reconcilable Differences in Eighteenth-Century English Literature. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1999.

Reviewed by William Warner | July 12, 2000

William Bowman Piper demonstrates the ramifications over a wide range of literary writings of a skeptical philosophical tradition he dubs “perceptualism.” At the center of that tradition is the question, enunciated most powerfully in the writings of George Berkeley and David Hume: what if nature, and the people who inhabit nature, don’t have an independent existence, but are strictly perceptual? Piper demonstrates the pertinence of this question and worry across a very broad arc of genre-writers couplings of the eighteenth century: “Swift’s satires,” “Gay’s jests,” “Pope’s essays,” “Radcliffe’s mysteries” and “Austen’s acknowledgments.” While the readings of these texts are learned, incisive and quite suggestive, the tradition of skeptical philosophy that frames these readings is reduced, in the short introduction, to a discussion of four terms: “things,” “resemblance,” “causation,” and “perceptions.” In this readable version of Philosophy 101, the philosophical texts of Berkeley and Hume are denied the dense and complex textuality later conferred, in the chapters that follow, upon the literary texts they influence.

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