Boyle, classification and the workmanship of the understanding thesis

Journal of the History of Philosophy 43 (2):171-183 (2005)
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Abstract

The current consensus in Locke scholarship is that Robert Boyle anticipated Locke's thesis that classification into species is the arbitrary work of the understanding. In fact, according to Michael Ayers, inter alia, not only did Boyle and Locke both think that classification is the workmanship of the understanding but that this thesis follows directly from the mechanical hypothesis itself. In this paper I argue that this reading of Boyle is mistaken: Locke's thesis on classification was not anticipated by Boyle. I will do this by showing that Boyle's account of classification is not Locke's, but is a more realist view of natural species employing a mechanically respectable account of natural forms.

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