Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 31 (3):473-501 (2000)
Recent studies of the social and political meanings of English science in the 17th century have often included only a cursory inspection of Locke's work. Conversely, detailed studies of Locke's theory of knowledge have tended to refrain from taking into serious consideration the social context of English science in that period. The paper explores the contribution of Locke's conception of experience to the rise of experimental philosophy as a new social force. It shows that Locke elaborated a doctrine that rendered human experience the natural and nurtured means by which agents could discharge their duty to God and realize their right in God's dominion. Locke's account of the production of empirical knowledge thus delineated a theocentric system of a moral economy, which dovetailed with current advertisements of the new vocation of experimental philosophy. More particularly, Locke's debt to Boyle is manifested in their shared imagery of experience as a divine gift. While Boyle sought to encourage polite society to participate in cultivating the experimenter's gift, Locke propagated the view that proper conduct in the public sphere hinged on the recognition of the experimenter's findings as a new source of authority in everyday life.
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