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Natural Philosophy and the Cultivation of Taste

Natural Philosophy and the Cultivation of Taste

(p.135) 5 Natural Philosophy and the Cultivation of Taste
Aesthetic Science
Alexander Wragge-Morley
University of Chicago Press

This chapter discusses the stylistic qualities of the verbal descriptions written by key members of the early Royal Society. It argues that those descriptions were intended to produce pleasurable effects that were both bodily and spiritual. The chapter makes this case by focusing on the stylistic qualities of Thomas Willis's anatomical description of the brain and nerves, Cerebri Anatome (1664). Moreover, it interprets Willis's descriptive style by turning to texts that evince a wider contemporary interest in the role that neurophysiology could play in explaining the pleasurable effects of rhetoric, including Robert Boyle’s Some Considerations Touching the Style of the H. Scriptures (1661) and the influential English translation of Bernard Lamy’s De l’art de Parler (1675). The chapter concludes by showing that the stylistic strategies used by WIllis and others were understood to have powerful therapeutic effects, literally shaping the organs of sensation and cognition in a way that made them better suited to the pleasurable acquisition of insights about nature. The program of moral and intellectual regeneration promised by key members of the early Royal Society therefore took substantial form in the bodily transformations that could accompany the attentive enjoyment of descriptions of plants and animals.

Keywords:   rhetoric, style, description, natural history, taste, Thomas Willis, Robert Boyle, Bernard Lamy, cultivation, pleasure

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