The 'physical prophet' and the powers of the imagination. Part I: a case-study on prophecy, vapours and the imagination (1685 -1710)

Abstract : I argue that the imagination was a crucial concept for the understanding of marvellous phenomena, divination and magic in general. Exploring a debate on prophecy at the turn of the seventeenth century, I show that four explanatory categories (God, demons, nature and fraud) were consistently evoked and I elucidate the role of the imagination in each of them. I introduce the term 'floating concept' to conceptualise the different understandings of the imagination and animal spirits in different discourses. I underpin my argument with a broader and less known discussion of the imagination. I argue that theories of the imagination, and particularly of the powers of the imagination, acquired negative associations and became linked with illicit magic in the Renaissance. Furthermore, I show that the relation between both animal spirits and imagination, and the power of the latter over external bodies, points to the importance of a 'history of vapours' and this suggests an adjustment to Hutchison's argument on occult qualities in mechanical philosophy. The accompanying paper (Vermeir, 2005) gives more evidence of these claims and elaborates on the relation between the natural and the moral.
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Koen Vermeir. The 'physical prophet' and the powers of the imagination. Part I: a case-study on prophecy, vapours and the imagination (1685 -1710). Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, Elsevier, 2004, 35 (4), pp.561-591. ⟨10.1016/j.shpsc.2004.09.001⟩. ⟨halshs-00641619⟩

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