The Aspiring Adept: Robert Boyle and His Alchemical Quest

Dissertation, The Johns Hopkins University (1996)

This dissertation deals with the alchemical activities of the English natural philosopher Robert Boyle . ;The study begins by setting down a consistent and defensible terminology for discussing a period during which time the words alchemy and chemistry were synonymous. A review of the three centuries of secondary literature on Boyle then reveals how his image has been successively reformed and tailored to fit prevailing apologetic or historiographic programmes, almost always with the effect of modernizing him and his interests and further burying his already obscure alchemical interests. A radically new interpretation of the Sceptical Chymist is then presented, developed by a newly rigorous reading of the work--together with its 1680 appendix--in terms of its context and sources, and with a much more nuanced appreciation of the competing schools of seventeenth century "chymistry." The work is thus revealed as not critical of the aims or methods of traditional alchemical masters, or adepti, but rather of the "unphilosophical" practice of Paracelsian pharmacists and the systematizing of textbook writers. Boyle's own positive view of transmutational alchemy is then unambiguously presented by a consideration of his "lost" Dialogue on the Transmutation and Melioration of Metals now reconstructed from scattered surviving fragments and presented here in full for the first time. The text shows Boyle's unflinching belief in the reality of the Philosophers' Stone and its powers, and his dissatisfaction with those who denied it. Different kinds of transmutation within traditional alchemy are described, alongside evidence for Boyle's maintenance of these traditional divisions. Boyle's own witness of transmutation is then recounted along with his attempts to contact adepti, thus involving him in a diverse array of social and scientific networks across Europe. ;Boyle's alchemical programme is next detailed, including his reading and writing of alchemical texts, his adoption of alchemical means of communication , and his experimental attempts to prepare alchemical arcana. In this last regard, his forty-year search for the Philosophical Mercury and its correct manipulation is chronicled. Finally, Boyle's motivations are explored. Boyle's interest in chrysoppoeia was not fueled primarily by the promise of medicines, gold, or new natural philosophical knowledge devolving from the Stone, but rather by his belief that the Stone could function as a medium for facilitating communication with angels and other spirits. As such, it could potentially manifest spirit activity and thus act as a powerful weapon against atheism. ;This study reveals Boyle as much less of a modern and revolutionary than presentist, positivist, heroic, or even the new sociological schools would have him. Rather, he is here resituated in a complex web of contemporary questions and currents of thought, and involved in the debate of an important question of the day. Alchemy was a chief concern of Robert Boyle and as such it must be fully integrated into our portrayal of him, and by extension, of his time--a critical period in the development of modern science as a whole, and of early modern chemistry in particular. The spiritual functions with which Boyle eventually endowed alchemy promoted it to a central position in his thought as a whole, functioning then as a middle term mediating between his two chief missions--the advancement of natural philosophy and the defense and propagation of Christianity
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Continental Philosophy of Science.Babette Babich - 2007 - In Constantin Boundas (ed.), The Edinburgh Companion to the Twentieth Century Philosophies. Edinburgh. University of Edinburgh Press. pp. 545--558.
From Fleck's Denkstil to Kuhn's Paradigm: Conceptual Schemes and Incommensurability.Babette E. Babich - 2003 - International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 17 (1):75 – 92.

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