Robert Boyle on Natural Philosophy [Book Review]

Review of Metaphysics 20 (3):542-543 (1967)

Since all of the distinguishing features of the early development of modern physical science seem to be embodied in the works of Newton, e.g., the abhorrence of occult qualities and the great surge of experimental knowledge, the mechanical view of matter explained by mathematical theory, the constant attempt to reconcile the God of revelation with the world machinery, Robert Boyle has too often been overlooked. In addition to giving a short sketch of Boyle's life, Mrs. Hall has admirably selected texts from the eighteenth century Birch edition which at once manifest the genius of Boyle and his influence on Newton. Each selection is adequately explained and commented upon by Mrs. Hall in Part One. The chapter headings in the author's introductory essay parallel the headings she has given to the selections in Part Two: "The New Learning and its Method," "The Mechanical Philosophy," "Chemistry," and "Pneumatics." The sections on mechanical philosophy contain the core of Boyle's natural philosophy. The characteristic blend of natural philosophy with natural religion which was common to many members of the Royal Society led Boyle to disdain the Baconian attempt to banish teleology from investigations. Boyle's view of a world machinery is never considered as a scientific hypothesis as that term is understood today, but rather it appears to be at times a theological doctrine. The mechanical theory itself—the corpuscular theory of matter—which Boyle promised to set down in systematic form was actually never written as a complete system. Mrs. Hall has done much to give systematic coherence to Boyle's corpuscular theory in her excellent commentary and selection of texts. The book contains an adequate index, bibliographical notes, and a partial list of Boyle's works. One with an historical interest in the Newtonian age will discover another giant whose shoulders made it all possible.—J. J. R.
Keywords Catholic Tradition  Contemporary Philosophy  General Interest
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ISBN(s) 0034-6632
DOI revmetaph196720336
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