The Medicine of the Mind

The aim of the project was to recover a corpus of knowledge which, precisely because it straddles a variety of different fields, seems not to have filled any specific institutional niche or disciplinary pigeonhole in the early modern system of knowledge and has therefore escaped the attention of scholars working on the history of natural philosophy in this period. The recovery of this background will make possible a new and fruitful reading of Bacon’s programme for the reformation of knowledge. The project will also explore the way in which, during the second half of the seventeenth century, the notion of medicina mentis, in its Baconian definition, became part of the language of experimental philosophy and of early modern science.

Medicines of the mind in 16th and 17th century philosophy encompass unexplored intellectual territory. During this time, theologians, rhetoricians and physicians devised methods for training the soul and the body to work together. As an interdisciplinary prototype, stoic ideas were intertwined with religious models of self-analysis. As a result, they provided regimens for living the good life, cures for passions and methods of controlling one's own thoughts.

Due to its crossover into different fields, this system of knowledge did not fit into a specific institutional niche. Thus, this background was bypassed in the study of history of natural philosophy in this period. An EU-funded project, MOM (The medicine of the mind and natural philosophy in early modern England: A new interpretation of Francis Bacon), sought to recover it.

Innovative views about Bacon's natural philosophy have been disseminated via conferences, workshops and seminars. The five years of research have also resulted in collaborations with other scholars working on Bacon and early modern intellectual history. Arriving at an intersection of various historical disciplines, including early modern philosophy, theology, medicine, science and literature, the work has helped to establish a better understanding of Bacon's natural philosophy.

The research team at the Warburg Institute consisted of Guido Giglioni and James Austin Taylor Lancaster, PhD student, who both concentrated on topics that, within the broader context of Bacon’s ‘medicining of the mind’, intersect with domains such as natural philosophy, medicine and practical divinity. Particular attention was devoted to investigating possible influences coming from the Stoic tradition, especially in its late Renaissance incarnations, and closely related to this, to exploring the notion of ‘appetite’, in relation to the human body, the body of the universe and the body politic, as it appears in the writings of Bacon and his contemporaries.

 

From the Final Report Summary: ‘The Medicine of the Mind and Natural Philosophy in Early Modern England: A New Way of Interpreting Francis Bacon’ is a five-year ERC research project based at the Warburg Institute, School of Advanced Study, University of London, and carried out in conjunction with New Europe College (Colegiul Noua Europă) in Bucharest. The research team is comprised of Guido Giglioni (Warburg Institute), Sorana Corneanu (New Europe College), Dana Jalobeanu (New Europe College) and James Lancaster (Warburg Institute). The project focuses on an important, but as yet unexplored, intellectual context for Francis Bacon’s philosophy, i.e., sixteenth- and seventeenth-century ‘medicines of the mind’, understood by a number of philosophers, theologians, rhetoricians and physicians at the time as a set of practices for training and improving the powers of the mind. In various ways, they devised methods for training the soul and the body to work together towards the attainment of forms of practical wisdom. Within these disciplines, they provided regimens for living the good life, cures for the passions and methods of controlling one’s own thought, as can be seen, among others, in the writings of John Woolton (1535?-1594), John Abernethy (d. 1639), Thomas Rogers (c. 1553-1616), Thomas Wright (c. 1561-1623) and Robert Burton (1577-1640). The aim of the project is to recover a corpus of knowledge which, precisely because it straddles a variety of different fields, seems not to have filled any specific institutional niche or disciplinary pigeonhole in the early modern system of knowledge, and has therefore escaped the attention of scholars working on the history of natural philosophy in this period. The recovery of this background will make possible a new and fruitful reading of Bacon’s programme for the reformation of knowledge. The project also explores the ways in which, during the second half of the seventeenth century, the notion of medicina mentis, in its Baconian definition, became part of the language of early modern philosophy and science.

Through the workshops and colloquia organized thus far in Bucharest (13-15 May 2010 and 1-2 March 2013) and London (17-18 June 2011, 14-15 June 2013 and 30-31 May 2014), and through participation in other conferences and seminars (annual meetings of HOPOS, ISIH, RSA, EAHMH, ISNS and seminars in Oxford and Princeton), the four members of the ERC project (SC, GG, DJ and JL) have disseminated innovative views about Bacon’s natural philosophy and established a series of collaborations with other scholars working on Bacon and early modern intellectual history (such as Peter Anstey, Daniel Garber, Peter Harrison, Howard Hotson and Brian Vickers). GG and JL are collaborating with the Oxford Francis Bacon (OFB) project (new edition of his works published by Oxford University Press); DJ and SC have consolidated their connections with Princeton University through the annual Bucharest-Princeton Seminar in Early Modern Philosophy in Bran, Romania and a seminar on Bacon’s Sylva sylvarum held at Princeton (14-27 May 2012). Because of the very nature of the topics, and given the intellectual training and background of the four investigators, the achievements resulting from the five years of research have taken on a distinctive interdisciplinary physiognomy; intersecting various fields in the historical disciplines, such as early modern philosophy, theology, medicine, science and literature. Together, workshops, seminars, colloquia and publications have helped to create a more historically and conceptually nuanced understanding of Bacon’s natural philosophy. The project’s output includes: one special issue of each Early Science and Medicine [17 (2012), pp. 1-271] and Perspectives on Science [20 (2012), pp. 135-267], the first concerned with Bacon’s natural history, the second with the historical contextualisation of his medicina mentis; three books [SC, Regimens of the Minds (Chicago 2011); GG, Francesco Bacone (Rome, 2011); DJ, Casa lui Solomon sau fascinaţia utopiei (Bucharest, 2011)]; and a number of articles, all of which have been specified in the individual reports of the team members. A volume collecting papers from the conferences organized at the Warburg Institute in June 2011 and June 2013 is forthcoming by Springer.