Soul and Body in Seventeenth-Century British Philosophy

In Peter Anstey (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of British Philosophy in the Seventeenth Century. Oxford University Press. 285-307 (2013)
Abstract
Ideas about soul and body – about thinking or remembering, mind and life, brain and self – remain both diverse and controversial in our neurocentric age. The history of these ideas is significant both in its own right and to aid our understanding of the complex sources and nature of our concepts of mind, cognition, and psychology, which are all terms with puzzling, difficult histories. These topics are not the domain of specialists alone, and studies of emotion, perception, or reasoning have never been isolated theoretical endeavours. As Francis Bacon described human philosophy or ‘the knowledge of ourselves’, within which he located the study of body, soul, and mind, it ‘deserveth the more accurate handling, by how much it toucheth us more nearly’ (1605/ 2000: 93). The history of ideas in these domains is particularly challenging given the practical dimensions and implications of theories of mind. Because theories of human nature and debates about body and mind do ‘touch us’ so ‘nearly’, they attract and can thus reveal, in specific historical contexts, interconnected discourses or associations which may be quite unlike our own. So there are no neat boundaries around a historical category of ‘seventeenth-century British philosophy of the soul’. The central topic of this chapter can be thought of either as pneumatology, the doctrine or science of spirits and souls, or as continuous with the ‘psychologia’ or psychology of Aristotelian traditions (Park and Kessler 1988; Hatfield 1995: 184-6). In neither case, however, should we expect any deep unity to be provided by history, geography, discipline, or subject-matter
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