Brian P. Copenhaver, "Magic in Western Culture: From Antiquity to the Enlightenment" (Cambridge UP, 2015 )


Belief in magic was pervasive in Greco-Roman times, persisted through the Renaissance, and then fell off the map of intellectual respectability in the Enlightenment. What happened? Why did it become embarrassing for Isaac Newton to have sought the philosopher's stone, and for Robert Boyle to have urged the British Parliament to repeal a ban on transmuting base metals into silver and gold? In Magic in Western Culture: From Antiquity to the Enlightenment (Cambridge University Press, 2015), Brian P. Copenhaver shows that for millenia magic was taken seriously by the learned classes, sustained by a philosophical foundation drawn from Plato, Aristotle, and the Stoics. In this fascinating account of the historical conceptual framework of magic, Copenhaver, who is distinguished professor of philosophy and history at UCLA, explains the difference between good and bad magic, why Catholic Church fathers endorsed some magical beliefs (but drew the line at amulets and talismans), and how the rise of mechanistic philosophy transformed magic from being reputable to being a joke.

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Carrie Figdor

Carrie Figdor is professor of philosophy at the University of Iowa.

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