By McCormick, Thomas James
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In the poetry of Armstrong, for instance, we see the body as offering compensatory forms of labour and control necessary to invigorate a dangerously indolent leisured class; as providing a regulatory economy to contrast with the excesses of both nature and eighteenth-century consumption; as offering a model of regulation, defeated insurrection and good governance; and the body as enabling, as well as problematising, a socially necessary differentiation between public and private acts, and aiding the production of virtuous subjectivity.
But this sense of man’s nature as a system whose perfect operation might only be ensured by an overseeing regulating force betrays the weakness of a mechanical model as an analogy for man’s moral nature: such machinery cannot be allowed to operate without a regulating guiding hand, or some kind of vital presence. At the same time, the desire to understand man as in some way an organised system is strongly evident. Vitalism’s metaphors, which retained the sense of an organised system, but dispensed with the problematic tension between blind forces and a controlling function, would offer a fruitful alternative formulation which, as the next chapter argues, would also inform the formulation of sympathy in Scottish moral philosophy.
At its most ideal, the economy formed between the body and external nature makes a perfect system: a benevolent, beneficent correspondence of needs and wants, a microcosmic manifestation of the divine harmony and order of the universe as a whole. At such moments, the body’s natural system does appear to be – like those in vitalist physiology – an independently self-operating entity. At the same time as already existing, however, this perfect mechanism, like the mechanisms of man’s moral nature elaborated by Hutcheson and Fordyce, must be cultivated and supported through precisely such regimens of diet, exercise and so forth that Armstrong elaborates.