Witcraft: The Invention of Philosophy in English by Jonathan Rée - review by Jane O’Grady

Jane O’Grady

In the Beginning was the Word

Witcraft: The Invention of Philosophy in English


Allen Lane 746pp £30 order from our bookshop

Artists, poets, novelists, dramatists and musicians don’t really need to know the history of their respective disciplines; nor do scientists. Philosophers do. They are, as is often said, required to think for themselves, but also to think for themselves about questions that have already been asked and the different answers that the never-ending argument has thrown up. Histories of philosophy ‘map the territories of its contention’, says Jonathan Rée, and yet their authors tend to treat what they chart with ‘disdain’, reducing philosophy to a set of off-the-peg ‘positions’, overused quotations and standard characters.

Witcraft is a new sort of history of philosophy. Starting in 1601 and ending in 1951, each of its eight chapters covers fifty years and conveys how philosophy in England was regarded and practised during that half-century, with the future an open book and the durability of the ideas originating

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