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The Limits of the Senses in Johnson’s Scotland

From: The Eighteenth Century
Volume 54, Number 2, Summer 2013
pp. 279-294 | 10.1353/ecy.2013.0016



This essay focuses on scientific viewing in Samuel Johnson’s A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland, particularly on Johnson’s account of that viewing as a means of accessing the “life and manners” of those around him. In Johnson’s inconsistent attempts at precision, and in his meditations on those attempts, we can see him probing a distinction between theory and practice at the heart of the seventeenth-century empiricism on which his basic practice of observing is based. Recovering this side of Johnson’s philosophical argument figures Johnson as an important early theorist of observational practices we now associate with the discipline of anthropology.

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