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Empiricist Devotions : Science, Religion, and Poetry in Early Eighteenth-century England (Hardcover)

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Featuring a moment in late seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century England before the disciplinary divisions that we inherit today were established,Empiricist Devotions recovers a kind of empiricist thinking in which the techniques and emphases of science, religion, and literature combined and cooperated. This empiricism was committed to particularized scrutiny and epistemological modesty and held that figurative language provided crucial tools for interpreting the divinely written world. Courtney Weiss Smith's prizewinning book explores this brand of meditative empiricism in Robert Boyle's analogies, Isaac Newton's metaphors, John Locke's narratives, Joseph Addison's personifications, Daniel Defoe's diction, John Gay's periphrases, and Alexander Pope's descriptive particulars. This empiricism, she contends, was crucial to the logics of microscopy treatises, scientific sermons, private devotional journals, economic policy proposals, social contract stories, it-narratives, and georgic poetry.

Empiricist Devotions has important implications for our understanding of cultural and literary history, as scholars of the period's science have not fully appreciated figurative language's central role in empiricist thought, while scholars of its religion and literature have neglected the serious empiricist commitments motivating richly figurative devotional and poetic text. Smith’s wide-ranging interdisciplinary study offers new insights into the period’s observation and description that go beyond the traditional boundaries of literature, science, religion, and history.

Winner of the Walker Cowen Memorial Prize for an Outstanding Work of Scholarship in Eighteenth-Century Studies


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