Brian P. Copenhaver
Magic in Western Culture
From Antiquity to the Enlightenment
Cambridge University Press 2015
New Books in European StudiesNew Books in HistoryNew Books in Intellectual HistoryNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in PhilosophyNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in Science & TechnologyNew Books in Science, Technology, and SocietyNew Books Network December 15, 2015 Carrie Figdor
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.