Shelley's theory of mind: From radical empiricism to cognitive romanticism

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This essay reconstructs Percy Shelley's theory of mind from his letters and many unfinished essays as well as his Defence of Poetry (1821), emphasizing his radical insistence on the formal and teleological roles of analogy in human cognition, communication, and culture. Adopting the assumptions, method, and terminology he inherited from the vigorous associationist tradition in eighteenth-century British philosophy and psychology, Shelley sought to demonstrate the innate and thus indefeasible foundations of human morality, especially its master principle of social equity. His analysis took him at once to the heart of a range of psychosocial issues that are today studied under the cognitive scientific rubric of "theory of mind," including the developmental interrelations of, and motivations for, social imitation, language acquisition, and mental representation. Taking first a historical and then a theoretical view, I argue that Shelley's elegant solution to one of the major philosophical problems of the empirical age remains surprisingly relevant to central issues in contemporary science of mind. © 2009 by Porter Institute for Poetics and Semiotics.

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