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Reviewed by:
  • Regimens of the Mind: Boyle, Locke, and the Early Modern Cultura Animi Tradition
  • J. J. MacIntosh
Sorana Corneanu. Regimens of the Mind: Boyle, Locke, and the Early Modern Cultura Animi Tradition. Chicago-London: University of Chicago Press, 2011. Pp. ix + 308. Cloth, $50.00.

Regimens of the Mind is an interesting and valuable if somewhat narrowly focused book. Corneanu, dealing with experimental philosophy and philosophers in England in the seventeenth century, wants to convince us that these philosophers “construed the problem of knowledge as a problem of the ordering of the knower’s mind,” and that this “driving force . . . reshaped such existing epistemological categories as probabilism and mitigated skepticism, and . . . provided one powerful line for the legitimation of experimental natural investigation. It . . . generated a type of objectivity that is best seen as a virtue notion. Finally it provided an argument for the value of the community of natural philosophers and for the relevance of the philosophical regimen to the well-being of the larger polity” (77–78).

Corneanu’s interest lies in the sociological side of the history of philosophy; as a result she leads us, interestingly, through the views of a number of thinkers often comparatively neglected. She concentrates in detail on Boyle and Locke, but she opens her case with Bacon, and then discusses the great interest shown in the passions in the early seventeenth century.

Passions were in fashion in England and France in the early modern period. Lemnius, Timothy Bright, Juan Huarte, and Sir John Davies, among others, had published treatises on the passions by the end of the sixteenth century, and the seventeenth had scarcely begun when Thomas Wright published his influential Passions of the Minde in Generall (five editions between 1601 and 1630, with the last four being considerably more substantial than the first). Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy was published in 1621; in 1640 Edward Reynolds, Bishop of Norwich, published his Treatise of the passions and faculties of the soul of man, and a year later Senault published De l’usage des passions.

We should, Corneanu suggests, plausibly enough, be more aware of the influence these works had, and we should be aware, too, of what this influence has to tell us about the way in which people viewed their intellectual activities. If we look clearly at the early seventeenth century, we shall see an interest not merely in the cultivation of the mind but in the cure of the disordered, or at least disorderly, mind. Bacon, for example, is seen as “a physician of the soul whose purposes can be served by (reformed) logic, rhetoric, or moral philosophy,” and, she argues, “Royal Society virtuosi in the second half of the century draw on both Bacon and the literature on the cure and cultivation of the soul in framing their understanding of experimental philosophy” (48). For “the philosophers analyzed in this book, the problem of knowledge was construed as a problem of the ordering of minds” (225).

The virtuosi and their works she considers are carefully chosen to make her point. Hobbes does not get a mention; fair enough, perhaps, given that the “Royal Society virtuosi” clearly did not consider him one of them, but Newton too goes unmentioned, although his views might in many cases be thought to strengthen her thesis. On the other hand, she deals selectively but informatively with Sprat and Glanvill, with Hooke and Charleton, and with works of Locke such as Some Thoughts Concerning Education and Of the Conduct of the Understanding, which deserve the attention she gives them. [End Page 127]

Interestingly, her comments on Boyle by and large pass over what was clearly the great love of his life, experiments and experimenting. She mines the various parts of the Christian Virtuoso with interesting and provocative results, bolstered with a look at works such as The Excellency of Theology, Things Above Reason, and The Style of the Scriptures, but we hear a great deal more about the pious Boyle’s undoubted interest in using natural philosophy to learn more about God’s universe than we do about the actual investigations that that interest provoked. However, it is certainly worthwhile to have our attention drawn to...


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pp. 127-128
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