David Hartley Bibliography

Observations on Man, His Fame, His Duty and His Expectations: Containing Observations on the Frame of the Human Body and Mind, and on their Mutual Connexions and Influences. (2 vols.) 1749
Hartley constructed his system with constant prayer to “show”, he wrote to a friend, “that the Christian revelation has the most incontestable marks of truth and certainty.” (Letter to Rev. John Lister, 2 December, 1736.) The Observations aimed to overcome “the great difficulty of supposing that the Soul, an immaterial Substance, exerts and receives a physical influence upon and the from the Body.” In the Preface Hartley states that he had been “informed that the Rev. Mr. Gay had asserted the possibility of deducing our intellectual pleasures and pains from Association.” (Gay was a devout Anglican whose Utilitarian ideas became influential). In Part I Hartley explains how he derived from “the hints concerning the performance of sensation and motion, which Sir Isaac Newton has given at the end of his Principia, and in the Questions annexed to his Optics” the idea that sensory stimuli might operate by producing “vibrations,” propagated through the nerves, like “the trembling of particles in sounding bodies”: in short, that in the brain the occurance of a set of vibrations prepares it for a similar set of vibrations taking place in the same order. Part II explains how complex processes - imagining, remembering, reasoning - may be analyzed into sequences of basic sense impressions, so that all psychological acts can be explicated by a single law of association. In this section Hartley begins “from what Mr. Locke, and other ingenious persons since his time, have delivered concerning the influence of association over our opinions and affections.” Part II investigates the development of concepts of God. Hartley lays down his methodology as follows: “the proper method of philosophizing is to discover and establish the general laws of action, affecting the subject under consideration, from certain select, well-defined, and well-attested phaenomena, and then to explain and predict the other phaenomena by these laws.” This “is the method of analysis and synthesis recommended and followed by Sir Issac Newton.”

Hartley sought to explain the “infinite variety of man’s experience from his dimmest awareness of shapes and colors to his most exalted perception of God, from his most animal-like sensuality to his most abstruse cogitations”. (Gay, 185) Dugald Stewart rejected Hartley’s work as unscientific, as a “metaphysical romance”, though Joseph Priestley, Hartley’s most effective popularizer, thought he had done more for psychology than Locke, and “thrown more useful light upon the theory of the mind that Newton did upon the theory of the natural world.”
Letters on the American War 1778
Son of the philosopher David Hartley, MP for Hull, friend of Benjamin Franklin; he spent a great part of his political career opposing the American Revolutionary War. Hartley was appointed by the Fox-North ministry as plenipotentiary to negotiate with the Americans in 1783 and signed the treaty of Paris.