In a recent article, van Fraassen has taken issue with the use to which Perrin’s experiments on Brownian motion have been put by philosophers, especially those defending scientific realism. He defends an alternative position by analysing the details of Perrin’s case in its historical context. In this reply, I argue that van Fraassen has not done the job well enough and I extend and in some respects attempt to correct his claims by close attention to the historical details.
It is instructive to view the scientific revolution from the point of view of Robert Boyle’s distinction between intermediate and ultimate causes. From this point of view, the scientific revolution involved the identification of intermediate causes and their investigation by way of experiment as opposed to the specification of ultimate causes of the kind involved in the corpuscular matter theories of the mechanical philosophers. The merits of this point of view are explored in this paper by focussing on the hydrostatics (...) of Pascal and Boyle, understood as the experimental investigation of the action of the intermediate causes weight and pressure. The distinctive features of this new science are highlighted by comparing it with two alternative versions of hydrostatics, that of Stevin and that of Descartes. (shrink)
While acknowledging its theory-ladeness, Chalmers (history and philosophy, U. of Sydney) defends the objectivity of scientific knowledge against those critics for whom such knowledge is both subjective and ideological.
William Newman construes the Scientific Revolution as a change in matter theory, from a hylomorphic, Aristotelian to a corpuscular, mechanical one. He sees Robert Boyle as making a major contribution to that change by way of his corpuscular chemistry. In this article it is argued that it is seriously misleading to identify what was scientific about the Scientific Revolution in terms of a change in theories of the ultimate structure of matter. Boyle showed, especially in his pneumatics, how empirically accessible, (...) intermediate causes, as opposed to ultimate, mechanical ones can be explored and identified by experiment. Newman is right to observe that Boyle constantly sought intimate links between chemistry and the mechanical philosophy. However, by doing so he did not thereby significantly aid the cause of attaining experimental knowledge of chemical phenomena and the support that Boyle’s chemistry provided for the mechanical philosophy was weaker than both Boyle and Newman imply. Boyle was intent on articulating and defending a strict, mechanical account of the ultimate structure of matter to be sure, but his contributions to the new experimental science in general, and chemistry in particular, are best seen as distinct from that endeavour.Keywords: Chemistry; Mechanical philosophy; Corpuscular philosophy; Experiment; Robert Boyle; William Newman. (shrink)
The idea that the use of instruments in science is theory‐dependent seems to threaten the extent to which the output of those instruments can act as an independent arbiter of theory. This issue is explored by studying an early use of the electron microscope to observe dislocations in crystals. It is shown that this usage did indeed involve the theory of the electron microscope but that, nevertheless, it was possible to argue strongly for the experimental results, the theory of dislocations (...) being tested, and the theory of the instrument, all at the same time. (shrink)
Ursula Klein has argued that Geoffroy’s table of chemical affinities, published in 1718, marked the emergence of the concepts of chemical compound and chemical combination central to chemistry. In this paper her position is summarised and then modified to render it immune to criticism that has been levelled against it. The essentials of Geoffroy’s chemistry are clarified and adapted to Klein’s picture by way of a detailed comparison of it with Boyle’s corpuscular chemistry that proceeded Geoffroy’s by over half a (...) century. The idea that Geoffroy’s notion of chemical combination marked a significant turning point in the emergence of modern chemistry is defended against the charge that it is Whiggish. (shrink)
We can distinguish 'mechanical' in the strict sense of the mechanical philosophers from 'mechanical' in the common sense. My claim is that Boyle's experimental science owed nothing to, and offered no support for, the mechanical philosophy in the strict sense. The attempts by my critics to undermine my case involve their interpreting 'mechanical' in something like the common sense. I certainly accept that Boyle's experimental science was productively informed by mechanical analogies, where 'mechanical' is interpreted in a common sense. But (...) this leaves my original claim untouched and, in the main, unchallenged. (shrink)
This paper suggests that the cases made for atoms and the aether in nineteenth-century physical science were analogous, with the implication that the case for the atom was less than compelling, since there is no aether. It is argued that atoms did not play a productive role in nineteenth-century chemistry any more than the aether did in physics. Atoms and molecules did eventually find an indispensable home in chemistry but by the time that they did so they were different kinds (...) of entities to those figuring in the speculations of those natural philosophers who were atomists. Advances in nineteenth-century chemistry were a precondition for rather than the result of the productive introduction of atoms into chemistry. (shrink)
The paper is a response to William Newman’s rebuttal of a critique of his account of the origins of modern chemistry by Alan Chalmers. A way in which the nature of science can be illuminated by history of science is identified and an account of how this can be achieved in the context of a study of the work of Boyle defended in the face of Newman’s criticism. Texts from the writings of Boyle that are cited by Newman as posing (...) problems for Chalmers’ thesis are interpreted as in fact supporting it. (shrink)
Guest editorial Content Type Journal Article Category Editorial Pages 1-4 DOI 10.1007/s10698-012-9147-z Authors Alan Chalmers, Unit for History and Philosophy of Science, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW, Australia Journal Foundations of Chemistry Online ISSN 1572-8463 Print ISSN 1386-4238.