Ideas and sensations

Mulligan's artful dodge when Stephen asks him whether he remembers Stephen visiting him soon after his mother died—"I remember only ideas and sensations"—appears to draw on 18th century empiricist philosophy, which posited sensory origins of all human knowledge. If so, then Mulligan is suggesting that life is a flurry of changing sense perceptions and of the concepts uncertainly inferred from them, with no firm grasp of objects or events. In such a phenomenological storm, how could he be expected to remember, much less be responsible for, a friend's mother's death, a social encounter, a hurtful utterance?

JH 2019

1697 oil on canvas portrait of John Locke by Godfrey Kneller, held in the Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Engraved portrait of David Hartley by William Blake in the 1791 edition of Hartley's Observations on Man. Source: Wikimedia Commons.