Witcraft: The Invention of Philosophy in English

Witcraft: The Invention of Philosophy in English

by Jonathan Rée


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An ambitious new history of philosophy in English that broadens the canon to include many lesser-known figures

Ludwig Wittgenstein once wrote that “philosophy should be written like poetry.” But philosophy has often been presented more prosaically as a long trudge through canonical authors and great works. But what, Jonathan Rée asks, if we instead saw the history of philosophy as a haphazard series of unmapped forest paths, a mass of individual stories showing endurance, inventiveness, bewilderment, anxiety, impatience, and good humor?
Here, Jonathan Rée brilliantly retells this history, covering such figures as Descartes, Locke, Kant, Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, Mill, James, Frege, Wittgenstein, and Sartre. But he also includes authors not usually associated with philosophy, such as William Hazlitt, George Eliot, Darwin, and W. H. Auden. Above all, he uncovers dozens of unremembered figures—puritans, revolutionaries, pantheists, feminists, nihilists, socialists, and scientists—who were passionate and active readers of philosophy, and often authors themselves. Breaking away from high-altitude narratives, he shows how philosophy finds its way into ordinary lives, enriching and transforming them in unexpected ways.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780300247367
Publisher: Yale University Press
Publication date: 08/20/2019
Pages: 768
Sales rank: 303,175
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.30(h) x 2.00(d)

About the Author

Jonathan Rée is a freelance philosopher and historian whose previous books include Proletarian Philosophers, Philosophical Tales and I See a Voice. He lives in London and Oxford.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations xi

Thanks xiii

Introduction: towards a revolution 1

1601 Philosophy Learns English 11

Arts-course philosophy and the humanist revolt 11

Speake by the card

Any potter knows better than him

Nothing either good or bad

We English men have wits 18

Either a yeasay or a naysay

Why not logike?

The diffusion of humanist philosophy 26

A smattering in Latin

Lives of the philosophers

The first doctor

Out of Egypt

Shadows of ideas

Becoming a philosopher 39

Felicity and Happinesse

I love not to smell of the inkhorn

A jerke of the French jargon

To goe beyond others

1651 Puritans, Philosophers, Comedians 49

Philosophy and the day of wrath 49

Philosophers and other heathens

Synagogues of Satan

Body and soul 52

Masters and possessours of Nature

A long chaine of discourses

A Cambridge Cartesian

The desarts of America 63

Indian prayers

Humane learning in New England

Philosophy old and new 68

Atomism and new philosophy

Old philosophy and magic


Laught aright

The privilege of absurdity 83

Célèbre philosophe anglais

Read thy self

Contention, sedition and contempt

Are they not mad?

1701 Politics, Religion And The Two New Philosophies 94

Free-thinking and the condition of Europe 94

Atheists, deists and the Electress

How Christianity became mysterious

Le pourquoi du pourquoi

A philosophy of mankind 105

The Christian Virtuoso

Eastern wisdom, French philosophy, British ignorance

Philosophy à la mode 114

Britishness and the English language

A voyage to the world of Descartes

Seeing all things in God

An antipast of heaven

The other new philosophy 126

Simple ideas and fairy money

The mind makes the patterns

Personal identity and moral algebra

Dogma, deism and the way of ideas 139

Unexplicated in my mind

The way of ideas and what children say

The reasonableness of Christianity

No self at all

1751 New Philosophy, New History 149

In Glasgow 150

Evangelicals and moderates in the prettiest town in Britain

Moral arithmetic: private vices and public benefits

Moral sense and moral pleasure

A new school

In Oxford 162

The chemistry of nature

The mazes of philosophy

A romantic design

Minute philosophers

Fictions of philosophy 172

Diffident doubts

Reason, passion and human vanity

Imagination runs away with its object

Consciousness, the self and the missing shade of blue

A continued miracle

Artificial lives

In Edinburgh 192

Heresy and philosophy in Britain and France

Histoires raisonnées

Philosophical history in the age of commerce

Death of an atheist 202


Immoral and pernicious

Idole des Ladys

Little noise

1801 Politics, Paradise And Personal Identity 214

Rational Christianity 215

Extraordinary and critical

The great probability

Glorious and paradisiacal

New heaven, new earth 222

Cause of humanity, cause of God

The remains of civil liberty

The rise of the Western world

The empire of liberty

Spirit of Revolution 234

Citizens of the world

Nothing but the gallows

Death of a warrior

That reasoning machine

A dissenting education 244

A different spirit

The grand theme of utility

Democracy, perfection and the pace of time

The modern philosophers and the constitution

A metaphysical discovery 256

An original idea

A way of his own

Most unintelligible

These barren leaves

The fall of modern philosophy 270

Darkness and light

A future self

A fine old head

1851 The Spirit Of Progress 280

Philosophical radicals and the Westminster Review 283

Much to think about

The tyranny of the majority and the completeness of limited men

Becoming transcendental

Reason, understanding, art

Continental philosophy

Science, progress, equality 298

The science of history and the circle of knowledge

Positivism and the aristocracy of sex

Ideas of America 305

The struggle of the intellect

The act of creation

The soul is progressive

Free-thinking in Warwickshire 314

Absolute despair

A complete sham

When the bear-skin is under the acacia

Translating Strauss

A Literary Lady

Truths gathered from nature

I have stolen his shadow

We shall never look upon his like

An honest kind of man 336

Human nature

Annus mirabilis

An honest kind of man

Secret Editor 345

The privilege of a latch-key

The dead sea of commonplace

The world's vanguard

Philosophy, history and fiction 355

A smooth face

Outcasts in this busy world

The life of philosophy

Mind and millinery

A sense of enlarged being

1901 Intelligent Love 369

Varieties of unbelief 371

Pagan liberty

Hopes, commonplaces and moral change

Natural selection and the devil's gospel

From the lower to the higher

Secularism, socialism and raucous atheism

My way

Foolish enough to make people think

Back in Edinburgh 391


Uproar in the school-house

Streams of consciousness and the right to believe 397

Simultaneous possibilities

Religion of scientificism

The manly school of science and the right to believe

Call it God 408

Many interpenetrating spheres

Quite an ovation


Benignant opportunities

Divine natural humanity 419

A rhythmic dance

Art, art, art

In the game

The big heart of the whole

Rambustious individual 430

The highest manhood and womanhood

The white-winged band

No final truth in ethics

New Life


A better world

Religion of democracy

The many and the few 454

Rehumanising the universe

Insufferable arrogance

Pathological stuff

A small force

1951 A Collection Of Nonsense 469

Valleys of folly 470

Take your time

A method has been found

A mind in love

Apples, marbles and gingerbread nuts 478

Sewing machines and propellers

Names and numbers

Logic and grammar

The young man one hopes for 490

An unknown German

By acquaintance and by description

Such a comfort

The next big step


What did he mean?

Say nothing

Ethics in wartime 511


Der Satz

Language is everything

Peace and love 524


Let the consequences take care of themselves

Like a young child

A born teacher 532

Verbal magic

The time to keep silent

In Vienna

Everything is surface

The Cambridge school 547


Basic and Babel

You'll never understand

Idealism, realism and logical multiplicity

The grammar of colour

Clashing similes

The bloody hard way

A sort of contradiction

Mad plans

Damned hard

Prophets of the death of metaphysics 576

Unlimited community

A feeling for history

The correct attitude

A mission in America

All the nastiness

A has-been 588

Shameful and depressing

A rotten attack

Steady Prof!

The sky blues

You'd be surprised! 599

I understand how that is

An excellent example

A philosophical desert

All are in the wrong

Experience is inexplicable

It takes many sorts

References 615

Index 725

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