(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.
Attributed, with some uncertainty, to Zachary Mayne, this is an important early work on cognition that 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. James Buickerood in his lengthy exploration of "Two Dissertations" says that our author's "ultimate purpose 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 conceeds 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 publication 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." The identity of the author is wrapped in uncertainty. Our best guess is that he was Zachary Mayne (1631-94), a clergyman and Oxford graduate who was described by Oliver Cromwell as "eminently godly." Mayne must have written the present work shortly after Locke's "Essay" was published in 1690, but for some reason Mayne's response was only published long after his death, in this first edition of 1728. 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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