This study provides an introduction to the neoclassical debates around how literature is shaped in concert with the thinking and feeling human mind. Three key rules of neoclassicism, namely, poetic justice (the rewards and punishments of characters in the plot), the unities (the coherence of the fictional world and its extensions through the imagination) and decorum (the inferential connections between characters and their likely actions), are reconsidered in light of social cognition, embodied cognition and probabilistic, predictive cognition. The meeting between neoclassical criticism and today's research psychology, neurology and philosophy of mind yields a new perspective for cognitive literary study. Neoclassicism has a crucial contribution to make to current debates around the role of literature in cultural and cognition. Literary critics writing at the time of the scientific revolution developed a perspective on literature the question of how literature engages minds and bodies as its central concern. A Prehistory of Cognitive Poetics traces the cognitive dimension of these critical debates in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Britain and puts them into conversation with today's cognitive approaches to literature. Neoclassical theory is then connected to the praxis of eighteenth-century writers in a series of case studies that trace how these principles shaped the emerging narrative form of the novel. The continuing relevance of neoclassicism also shows itself in the rise of the novel, as A Prehistory of Cognitive Poetics illustrates through examples including Pamela, Tom Jones and the Gothic novel.