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John Abernethy: Calvinist Natural Histories of the Soul in the Seventeenth Century

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image of Early Science and Medicine

This paper looks at the relation of natural history, in its guise as an observational genre and one which tended to offer competing explanations of its phenomena, to the discourse of practical divinity. Natural history is here intended as a genre in which the practice of observation is accorded a significant place and a genre which lends itself to the accumulation of competing explanatory accounts of the phenomena ('polycausal'). In particular, it examines the relation of the cognitive and the practical with respect to a rather unusual instance of that discourse. It attempts to site the work of practical divinity vertically (to its own tradition), horizontally (to the local contexts of John Abernethy) and orthogonally (to the Baconian project of descriptive enquiry as a basis for philosophical enquiry).

Affiliations: 1: Wolfson College, University of Oxford, OX2 6UD;, Email:


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