Producing Knowledge: Robert Hooke

Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh (1996)

Ofer Gal
University of Sydney
This work is an argument for the notion of knowledge production. It is an attempt at an epistemological and historiographic position which treats all facets and modes of knowledge as products of human practices, a position developed and demonstrated through a reconstruction of two defining episodes in the scientific career of Robert Hooke : the composition of his Programme for explaining planetary orbits as inertial motion bent by centripetal force, and his development of the spring law in relation to his invention of the spring watch. ;The revival of interest in the history of experimental and technological knowledge has accorded Hooke much more attention than before. However, dependent on the conception of knowledge as a representation of reality, this scholarship is bound to the categories of influence and competition, and concentrates mainly on Hooke's numerous passionate exchanges with Isaac Newton and Christiaan Huygens. I favourably explore the neo-pragmatist criticism of representation epistemology in the writing of Richard Rorty and Ian Hacking. This criticism exposes the conventional portrayal of Hooke as "a mechanic of genius, rather than a scientist" as a reification of the social hierarchy between Hooke's Royal Society employers and his artisan-experimenters employees. ;However, Rorty and Hacking's efforts to do away with the image of the human knower as an enclosed realm of 'ideas' have not been completed. Undertaking this unfinished philosophical task, my main strategy is to erase the false gap between knowledge which is clearly produced--practical, technological and experimental, 'know how', and knowledge which we still think of as representation--theoretical 'knowing that'. I present Hooke, Newton and Huygens as craftsmen, who, employing various resources, labor to manufacture material and theoretical artifacts. Eschewing the category of independent facts awaiting discovery, I attempt to compare practices and techniques rather than to adjudicate priority claims, replacing ideas which 'develop', 'inspire', and 'influence', with tools and skills which are borrowed, appropriated and modified for new uses. ;This approach enables tracing Hooke's creation of his Programme from his microscopy, and reconstructing his use of springs to structure a theory of matter. With his unique combination of technical and speculative talents Hooke comes to personify the relations between the theoretical-linguistic and the experimental-technological in their full complexity
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