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Regimens of the Mind

Boyle, Locke, and the Early Modern Cultura Animi Tradition

Publication supported by the Bevington Fund

In Regimens of the Mind, Sorana Corneanu proposes a new approach to the epistemological and methodological doctrines of the leading experimental philosophers of seventeenth-century England, an approach that considers their often overlooked moral, psychological, and theological elements. Corneanu focuses on the views about the pursuit of knowledge in the writings of Robert Boyle and John Locke, as well as in those of several of their influences, including Francis Bacon and the early Royal Society virtuosi. She argues that their experimental programs of inquiry fulfill the role of regimens for curing, ordering, and educating the mind toward an ethical purpose, an idea she tracks back to the ancient tradition of cultura animi. Corneanu traces this idea through its early modern revival and illustrates how it organizes the experimental philosophers’ reflections on the discipline of judgment, the study of nature, and the study of Scripture.  
It is through this lens, the author suggests, that the core features of the early modern English experimental philosophy—including its defense of experience, its epistemic modesty, its communal nature, and its pursuit of “objectivity”—are best understood.

320 pages | 6 x 9 | © 2011

History: History of Ideas

Philosophy: History and Classic Works


"Carefully argued. . . . Corneanu’s panotpic view of primary texts and close attention to the atuhors’ presentation of the craft of knowing deserve a careful, close reading by all scholars of early modern thought, both British and Continental. . . . An important contribution to early modern scholarship. Highly recommended."

S. Young, McHenry County College | Choice

“From Bacon to Locke, the remedying of the defects of the mind and the perfecting of its faculties was an important objective of inquiry into the natural world, but never has this development been explored in such detail as it is here. Regimens of the Mind is a splendid exploration of the moral dimension of natural philosophy in seventeenth-century England.”

Stephen Gaukroger, University of Sydney

“An excellent work with an original and challenging thesis that is articulated with admirable clarity. Regimens of the Mind will make a major contribution to our understanding of the history of science, philosophy, and religion in seventeenth-century England.”

Peter Harrison, University of Oxford

“An outstanding study of the cultura animi tradition and its impact on the emergence of early modern experimental philosophy. Through a careful analysis of a broad sweep of primary sources, including the writings of Francis Bacon, Robert Boyle, and John Locke, Corneanu demonstrates that in seventeenth-century England the acquisition of knowledge of nature was not merely a matter of apprehending the nature of the world itself, but also of correctly ordering and curing the knower’s mind.”

Peter Anstey, University of Otago

“For years we have been taught that early modern philosophy is characterized by the epistemological turn and obsessed with the threat of skepticism. In Regimens of the Mind, Sorana Corneanu shows us a very different side of the period. Focusing on Bacon, Boyle, Locke, and the ‘experimental philosophy’ that grew up in the Royal Society, she shows us the moral dimension of their philosophical and scientific projects. For Corneanu, their enterprise is the cultura animi, nothing less than the reordering and perfecting of the human mind. This elegant and erudite new book should bring about a reordering of our own minds: it will change the way we read these central figures and the intellectual context in which they worked.”

Daniel Garber, Princeton University

Table of Contents



1 Francis Bacon and the Art of Direction

An art of tempering the mind
The distempered mind and the tree of knowledge
A comprehensive culture of the mind
The end of knowledge
The study of nature as regimen

2 Cultura and Medicina Animi: An Early Modern Tradition

The physician of the soul
Utility: practical versus speculative knowledge
Self-love and the fallen/uncultured mind
The office of reason
Passions, errors, and assent
The discipline, the virtues, and habituation

3 Virtuoso Discipline

The cure of the mind and Solomon’s House
Passions, errors, and method
Idols and diseases of the mind
Epistemic modesty
The way of inquiry
A “union of eyes and hands”: The community and objectivity revisited

4 Robert Boyle: Experience as Paideia

The limits and the “perfection” of reason
The weak mind and the virtues of a free inquiry
Reason and experience
The Christian philosopher

5 John Locke and the Education of the Mind

Limits of reason, useful knowledge, and the duty to search for truth
A natural history of the distempered mind
The regulation of assent: A perfecting exercise
The discourse with a friend

6 Studying Nature

Lived physics
The appropriateness of disproportion
Experience, history, and speculation
Affective cognition

7 Studying “God’s Contrivances”

The study of theology and the growth of the mind
Worlds and angels
Reading Scripture


List of Abbreviations

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