Boyle and the origins of modern chemistry: Newman tried in the fire

William Newman construes the Scientific Revolution as a change in matter theory, from a hylomorphic, Aristotelian to a corpuscular, mechanical one. He sees Robert Boyle as making a major contribution to that change by way of his corpuscular chemistry. In this article it is argued that it is seriously misleading to identify what was scientific about the Scientific Revolution in terms of a change in theories of the ultimate structure of matter. Boyle showed, especially in his pneumatics, how empirically accessible, intermediate causes, as opposed to ultimate, mechanical ones can be explored and identified by experiment. Newman is right to observe that Boyle constantly sought intimate links between chemistry and the mechanical philosophy. However, by doing so he did not thereby significantly aid the cause of attaining experimental knowledge of chemical phenomena and the support that Boyle’s chemistry provided for the mechanical philosophy was weaker than both Boyle and Newman imply. Boyle was intent on articulating and defending a strict, mechanical account of the ultimate structure of matter to be sure, but his contributions to the new experimental science in general, and chemistry in particular, are best seen as distinct from that endeavour.Keywords: Chemistry; Mechanical philosophy; Corpuscular philosophy; Experiment; Robert Boyle; William Newman
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DOI 10.1016/j.shpsa.2009.12.001
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References found in this work BETA
Alan Chalmers (1993). The Lack of Excellency of Boyle's Mechanical Philosophy. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 24 (4):541-564.
Peter R. Anstey (2002). Robert Boyle and the Heuristic Value of Mechanism. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 33 (1):157-170.

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Alan Chalmers (2011). Understanding Science Through its History: A Response to Newman. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 42 (1):150-153.

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Thomas Holden (2007). Robert Boyle on Things Above Reason. British Journal for the History of Philosophy 15 (2):283 – 312.

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