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Home From Tranquillity to Agitation: Remedies Using the Imagination and the Passions in Early Modern Thought

From Tranquillity to Agitation: Remedies Using the Imagination and the Passions in Early Modern Thought

Alexandra Ileana BACALU*

Abstract: My concern in this paper is to contribute to the recovery of the therapeutic dimension of the early modern notion of imagination, which demands further interrogation despite the increased scholarly attention of recent years, by looking at the context of seventeenth-century practical English treatises on the faculties and passions of the soul. What I would like to argue is that this literature makes room for a set of prescriptions aimed at achieving mental, bodily and moral well-being that rely on the imagination and the passions and involve maintaining the two in constant activity. My claim is that this remedy emerges as a consequence of the authors‟ close allegiance to the Greek-Arab medical tradition and its physiological account of mental and affective motion, which erodes the Stoic ideal of „tranquillity‟ and reinterprets it as a form of „idleness‟ or „stagnation‟. My paper then looks at what vision of the good life and what type of interaction among the faculties of the mind is consistent with such prescriptions. Building on the work of McMahon (1976), Jackson (1989; 1990), James (1998; 2006) and Lyons (2005), I shall investigate this set of questions in a selection of texts authored by Thomas Wright (1601, 1604), Robert Burton (1621), Edward Reynolds (1640) and Walter Charleton (1674).

Keywords: imagination, treatises on the passions, Stoic therapy, neo-Galenism, the good life.

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