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Virtue of SympathyMagic, Philosophy, and Literature in Seventeenth-Century England$
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Seth Lobis

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780300192032

Published to Yale Scholarship Online: May 2015

DOI: 10.12987/yale/9780300192032.001.0001

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The “Self-Themes” of Margaret Cavendish and Thomas Hobbes

The “Self-Themes” of Margaret Cavendish and Thomas Hobbes

(p.69) 2 The “Self-Themes” of Margaret Cavendish and Thomas Hobbes
Virtue of Sympathy

Seth Lobis

Yale University Press

This chapter provides a fuller and more nuanced account of the reception of Thomas Hobbes’s psychology as it pertains to the history of sympathy. According to standard accounts, the emphasis on sympathy as a virtue after the Restoration was in large part a reaction against Hobbes’s selfish view of human nature. This chapter argues that the work of Margaret Cavendish represents an important challenge to that account. Suffering in the English Civil Wars, Cavendish largely shared Hobbes’s vision of society, but in insisting on the vital qualities of matter, she developed a scientific account of sympathy pointedly different from his. Having described the dynamics of sympathy in her scientific writing, in Sociable Letters and The Blazing World Cavendish prescribes sympathy as a virtue. But, despite their belief in the harmonizing power of speech and rhetoric, her protagonists struggle to reconcile a moral ideal of sympathy with the grim realities of civil war and its aftermath. Cavendish’s epistolary and utopian narratives ultimately expose sympathy as a problem in the moral world. Comparing Cavendish’s and Hobbes’s accounts of sympathy with that of Isaac Barrow, the chapter concludes with a claim for Cavendish’s significance in an intellectually and historically broader genealogy of sensibility.

Keywords:   Sympathy, Margaret Cavendish, Thomas Hobbes, Isaac Barrow, The Blazing World, Rhetoric, Letters, Materialism

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