Annals of Science 76 (3-4):241-266 (2019)

Ofer Gal
University of Sydney
ABSTRACTRobert Hooke’s development of the theory of matter-as-vibration provides coherence to a career in natural philosophy which is commonly perceived as scattered and haphazard. It also highlights aspects of his work for which he is rarely credited: besides the creative speculative imagination and practical-instrumental ingenuity for which he is known, it displays lucid and consistent theoretical thought and mathematical skills. Most generally and importantly, however, Hooke’s ‘Principles … of Congruity and Incongruity of bodies’ represent a uniquely powerful approach to the most pressing challenge of the New Science: legitimizing the application of mathematics to the study of nature. This challenge required reshaping the mathematical practices and procedures; an epistemological framework supporting these practices; and a metaphysics which could make sense of this epistemology. Hooke’s ‘Uniform Geometrical or Mechanical Method’ was a bold attempt to answer the three challenges together, by interweaving mathematics through physics into metaphysics and epistemology. Mathematics, in his rendition, was neither an abstract and ideal structure, nor a wholly-flexible, artificial human tool. It drew its power from being contingent on the particularities of the material world.
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DOI 10.1080/00033790.2019.1702718
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