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An Empiricism of Imperceptible Entities

An Empiricism of Imperceptible Entities

(p.47) 2 An Empiricism of Imperceptible Entities
Aesthetic Science
Alexander Wragge-Morley
University of Chicago Press

Chapter 2 explores a difficulty that links the natural philosophy and physico-theology of the early Royal Society—the challenge of making imperceptible entities accessible to sensory experience. In natural philosophy, those entities were imperceptibly small and almost infinitely numerous atoms. In physico-theology, meanwhile, the entity in question was an immaterial God, both immaterial and infinite. The chapter explores this difficulty by turning to crucial works of neurophysiology such as Thomas Willis’s Cerebri Anatome (1664), and to texts by Robert Boyle exploring the possibility of learning about things beyond human understanding—his Discourse of Things Above Reason (1681) and Some Physico-Theological Considerations about the Possibility of the Resurrection (1675). In so doing, the chapter shows that physico-theology was by no means only an apologetic discourse. Rather, it was one part of an empirical science deeply concerned with making the activity of imperceptible spirits accessible to the bodily organs of sensation and cognition. At the same time, it shows that Boyle and others believed that the representational strategies they used to make imperceptible entities accessible to the senses should provoke pleasure. For them, the provocation of sensory and imaginative pleasure was central to the work of empiricism.

Keywords:   Thomas Willis, Robert Boyle, neurophysiology, physico-theology, imagination, brain, senses, resurrection, atoms, corpuscles

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