(London: Printed for J. Tonson, 1728). 213 x 130 mm. (8 3/8 x 5 1/8"). 4 p.l., 231 pp. FIRST EDITION.
Pleasing contemporary sprinkled calf, double gilt-rule edging to covers, raised bands, spine panels with large complex gilt floral ornament, red morocco label. Decorative and historiated woodcut headpieces, tailpieces, and initials. First three leaves with small embossed armorial stamp of the Macclesfield Library and front pastedown with matching armorial Macclesfield bookplate. Buickerood, "Two Dissertations," in "1650-1850: Ideas, Aesthetics, and Inquiries in the Early Modern Era," VII, 51-86. Leather a bit dried, spine top slightly rubbed and with two small cracks, very minor nicks and spotting to covers, but the original unsophisticated binding completely solid and still quite appealing. A trace of foxing here and there, otherwise a nearly fine copy internally, the text very clean and fresh, and with quite ample margins as well as deep impressions of the type.
This important early work on cognition was written in forceful response to the doctrines of John Locke's "Essay on Human Understanding," which the author calls "very dangerous and pernicious." Locke believed that all knowledge stemmed from an initial intake of data through the senses, thus contradicting Plato's theory of ideas, which posits a higher form of understanding independent of sentient perception. Our author objects that Locke puts humanity on the level of the animals. The work was long attributed to cleric Zachary Mayne (1631-94), but it seemed unlikely that the essay would have gone unpublished for three decades after his death. In his lengthy exploration of "Two Dissertations," Professor James Buickerood unravels the mistaken attribution, determining the author to be Charles Mayne (sometimes spelled Mein), who also wrote "Essay Concerning Rational Notions" (1733) in which the philosophical positions expressed are consistent with and build on those expounded in "Two Dissertations." Buickerood bolstered his argument with the discovery of an advertisement in an 18th century newspaper listing “Charles Mein” as the author. In addition to his writing, Mayne (d. ca. 1737) worked as an officer at the Customs House in London. According to Buickerood, Mayne’s "ultimate purpose” in this work “is to defend the dignity of human nature by way of establishing a sharp distinction between it and animal nature, which he effects by offering what he claims to be the first extended analysis of the concept of consciousness." Buickerood concedes that, next to the influence of Locke's work, the present volume cannot measure up in importance, but he does say that in the 18th century "explicit use is made of its arguments and analyses in influential texts such as Edmund Law's English edition of William King's 'De Origine Mali' (which was closely studied by David Hume), and the second edition of Chambers's 'Cyclopaedia,' as well as publications of more restricted scope." In the 19th century, the work was used by philosophers and scholars such as Wilhelm Tennemann, Friederich Überweg, and Noah Porter, who "attributed considerable philosophic significance to" it. And, says Buickerood, Sir William Hamilton "understood its conception of consciousness to bear strong similarities to his own influential position." In general, Buickerood concludes, "the attention and regard [our book] has received has not been proportionate to its worth." Like a number of other little treasures from the Macclesfield collection, this is an early English work on an important subject that is quite rare, especially for a Tonson imprint. (ST10985)
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PJP Catalog: 75.127