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How ontologically committal is common sense? Is the common-sense philosopher beholden to a florid ontology in which all manner of objects, substances, and processes exist and are as they appear to be to common sense, or can she remain neutral on questions about the existence and nature of many things because common sense is largely non-committal? This chapter explores and tentatively evaluates three different approaches to answering these questions. The first applies standard accounts of ontological commitment to common-sense claims. This leads to the surprising and counter-intuitive result that common sense has metaphysically heavyweight commitments. The second approach emphasizes the superficiality and locality of common-sense claims. On this approach, however, common sense comes out as almost entirely non-committal. The third approach questions the seriousness of ontological commitment as such. If ontological commitment is cheap, it becomes possible both to accept the commitments of common sense at face value and to avoid the counter-intuitive consequences of heavyweight metaphysical commitments.
From the 1980s book history has insisted on the material object (rather than the work) as the object of study, together with the collecting and reading of it. Lacking so far has been a strong theoretical underpinning: conceptually tying materiality to the role of readers in a way that would simultaneously answer the central question for literary study broached in Chapter 1: What is the thing read?
Close reading – still the practical basis of literary training – offers no obvious answer. Since the New Criticism no viable defence of it has emerged. Caroline Levine’s 2015 book Forms offers an aesthetic-political formalism but fails to answer the central question.
A fresh definition of the work as regulative idea is put forward. By recognising the dialectically linked dimensions of document and textual meaning at every stage from genesis to production to reception, it incorporates the work’s versions and material forms together with their readers.
Stages of reception (and aesthetic reception in the present) may be studied as indices of the cultural shifts with which the work’s manifestations engage. Rolf Boldrewood’s Robbery Under Arms (1882–3) provides the case study.
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