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Virtue of SympathyMagic, Philosophy, and Literature in Seventeenth-Century England$
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Seth Lobis

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780300192032

Published to Yale Scholarship Online: May 2015

DOI: 10.12987/yale/9780300192032.001.0001

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Toward a New History of Sympathy

Toward a New History of Sympathy

(p.1) Introduction: Toward a New History of Sympathy
Virtue of Sympathy

Seth Lobis

Yale University Press

The Introduction begins with a reading of The Tempest, in which Shakespeare sets Prospero’s pursuit of sympathy in the stars and the elements against his subsequent focus on sympathy among his fellow human beings. This shift from the natural and the magical to the moral represents in epitome, and in schematic terms, the historical development of sympathy in the seventeenth century. The Introduction traces historical ideas of natural and cosmic sympathy in Stoic, Platonic, Neoplatonic, Aristotelian, and Pythagorean traditions and shows their strong connection to magical traditions. It then proceeds to major representations of sympathy in early modern Europe and seventeenth-century England in particular, highlighting those of Francis Bacon, Robert Boyle, and John Spencer. With the development of the new sciences in the seventeenth century, sympathy did not simply disappear, as Michel Foucault influentially argued. Rather, it remained a subject of intense scientific interest and gradually migrated into the moral and aesthetic spheres. The Introduction exposes the historiographical gap between natural and moral traditions of sympathy and extends an insight from Max Weber, who, while making too definitive a claim for a monolithic “disenchantment of the world,” rightly associated shifting conceptions of the universe with the enchantment of human relations.

Keywords:   Sympathy, William Shakespeare, The Tempest, Francis Bacon, Robert Boyle, Michel Foucault, Max Weber, Magic, Disenchantment of the World, New Sciences

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