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Cognitive Boundaries: Perception and Ethics in Nineteenth-Century Britain

By Margaret Rennix

Abstract

Cognitive Boundaries: Perception and Ethics in Nineteenth-Century Britain considers the relationship between form and ethics in nineteenth-century literature through investigating representations of cognitive restraint. Using theories of cognitive limitation from neurobiology, psychology, philosophy, and economics, I argue that the Victorian interest in self-control goes beyond a simple ingestion of larger forms of authority, but instead represents a complex process of self-actualization that arises when the chaos of consciousness meets the ethical demands of the world at large. This interest in cognitive restraint coincides with a nineteenth-century distrust in unmitigated stream of consciousness; by managing one’s perceptions, rather than capitulating to the momentary nature of individual sensation, it was possible to develop an idea of selfhood that was meaningfully and volitionally connected to long-term goals. Looking at the works of Charles Dickens, Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot, and Gerard Manley Hopkins, I identify specific strategies that characters and authors use to manage their perceptions, charting the effects such limitations have on plot and action. Ultimately, controlling one’s access to perceptual experience is revealed as theoretically connected with solving problems of deliberation, action, and ethics.Englis

Topics: Literature, English
Publisher: 'Harvard University Botany Libraries'
Year: 2018
OAI identifier: oai:dash.harvard.edu:1/17467216
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