In the mid-seventeenth century a movement of self-styled experimental philosophers emerged in Britain. Originating in the discipline of natural philosophy amongst Fellows of the fledgling Royal Society of London, it soon spread to medicine and by the eighteenth century had impacted moral and political philosophy and even aesthetics. Early modern experimental philosophers gave epistemic priority to observation and experiment over theorising and speculation. They decried the use of hypotheses and system-building without recourse to experiment and, in some quarters, developed a (...) philosophy of experiment. The movement spread to the Netherlands and France in the early eighteenth century and later impacted Germany. Its important role in early modern philosophy was subsequently eclipsed by the widespread adoption of the Kantian historiography of modern philosophy, which emphasised the distinction between rationalism and empiricism and had no place for the historical phenomenon of early modern experimental philosophy. The re-emergence of interest in early modern experimental philosophy roughly coincided with the development of contemporary x-phi and there are some important similarities between the two. (shrink)
This paper argues that early modern experimental philosophy emerged as the dominant member of a pair of methods in natural philosophy, the speculative versus the experimental, and that this pairing derives from an overarching distinction between speculative and operative philosophy that can be ultimately traced back to Aristotle. The paper examines the traditional classification of natural philosophy as a speculative discipline from the Stagirite to the seventeenth century; medieval and early modern attempts to articulate a scientia experimentalis; and the tensions (...) in the classification of natural magic and mechanics that led to the introduction of an operative part of natural philosophy in the writings of Francis Bacon and John Johnston. The paper concludes with a summary of the salient discontinuities between the experimental/speculative distinction of the mid-seventeenth century and its predecessors and a statement of the developments that led to the ascendance of experimental philosophy from the 1660s. (shrink)
Peter Anstey presents a thorough and innovative study of John Locke's views on the method and content of natural philosophy. Focusing on Locke's Essay concerning Human Understanding, but also drawing extensively from his other writings and manuscript remains, Anstey argues that Locke was an advocate of the Experimental Philosophy: the new approach to natural philosophy championed by Robert Boyle and the early Royal Society who were opposed to speculative philosophy. On the question of method, Anstey shows how Locke's pessimism about (...) the prospects for a demonstrative science of nature led him, in the Essay, to promote Francis Bacon's method of natural history, and to downplay the value of hypotheses and analogical reasoning in science. But, according to Anstey, Locke never abandoned the ideal of a demonstrative natural philosophy, for he believed that if we could discover the primary qualities of the tiny corpuscles that constitute material bodies, we could then establish a kind of corpuscular metric that would allow us a genuine science of nature. It was only after the publication of the Essay, however, that Locke came to realize that Newton's Principia provided a model for the role of demonstrative reasoning in science based on principles established upon observation, and this led him to make significant revisions to his views in the 1690s. On the content of Locke's natural philosophy, it is argued that even though Locke adhered to the Experimental Philosophy, he was not averse to speculation about the corpuscular nature of matter. Anstey takes us into new terrain and new interpretations of Locke's thought in his explorations of his mercurialist transmutational chymistry, his theory of generation by seminal principles, and his conventionalism about species. (shrink)
This paper analyses the place of natural history within Bacon's divisions of the sciences in The Advancement of Learning and the later De dignitate et augmentis scientiarum. It is shown that at various points in Bacon's divisions, natural history converges or overlaps with natural philosophy, and that, for Bacon, natural history and natural philosophy are not discrete disciplines. Furthermore, it is argued that Bacon's distinction between operative and speculative natural philosophy and the place of natural history within this distinction, are (...) discontinuous with the later distinction between experimental and speculative philosophy that emerged in the methodology of the Fellows of the early Royal Society. (shrink)
This paper provides an analysis of Robert Boyle's most detailed discussion of the Baconian method of natural history. In a long letter to Henry Oldenburg dated 13 June 1666 and in ancillary manuscript material, Boyle spells out the method or 'Designe' by which he believes experimental programs in natural philosophy should be written up. The 'Designe' is enormously important in giving a clear statement of the precise contours of Boyle's Baconian methodology and providing a key to understanding the rationale, composition (...) and format for many of his published histories. Works such as New Experiments and Considerations Touching Cold, Memoirs for the Natural History of Human Blood and even his more speculative writings such as An Introduction to the History of Particular Qualities are best understood in terms of Boyle's overall method as articulated in his “Designe about Natural History”. (shrink)
This paper argues that, contrary to the claims of Alan Chalmers, Boyle understood his experimental work to be intimately related to his mechanical philosophy. Its central claim is that the mechanical philosophy has a heuristic structure that motivates and gives direction to Boyle's experimental programme. Boyle was able to delimit the scope of possible explanations of any phenomenon by positing both that all qualities are ultimately reducible to a select group of mechanical qualities and that all explanations of natural phenomena (...) are to be in terms of the operations of machines and are to appeal only to qualities that are already familiar. This is illustrated by his investigations into the Torricellian experiment. Boyle's explanation of the elevation of the mercurial cylinder by appeal to the spring of the air was an intermediate mechanical explanation. Boyle was convinced that the spring of the air was ultimately reducible to the mechanical qualities. This in turn had implications for his research into the cause of respiration. In a move that was both parsimonious and consistent with the broad requirements of the mechanical philosophy, Boyle was able to solve the problem of the cause of the inflow of air into the lungs by appeal to his research in pneumatics. This application of a mechanical explanation in pneumatics to physiology is just what one would expect if the mechanical philosophy was as universal as Boyle claimed it to be. Therefore, far from Boyle's experiments having a life of their own, they were clearly directed by and understood in terms of the mechanical philosophy.Keywords: Air-pump; Boyle; Chalmers; Experiment; Explanation; Mechanism. (shrink)
This collection presents the first sustained examination of the nature and status of the idea of principles in early modern thought. Principles are almost ubiquitous in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries: the term appears in famous book titles, such as Newton’s _Principia_; the notion plays a central role in the thought of many leading philosophers, such as Leibniz’s Principle of Sufficient Reason; and many of the great discoveries of the period, such as the Law of Gravitational Attraction, were described as (...) principles. Ranging from mathematics and law to chemistry, from natural and moral philosophy to natural theology, and covering some of the leading thinkers of the period, this volume presents ten compelling new essays that illustrate the centrality and importance of the idea of principles in early modern thought. It contains chapters by leading scholars in the field, including the Leibniz scholar Daniel Garber and the historian of chemistry William R. Newman, as well as exciting, emerging scholars, such as the Newton scholar Kirsten Walsh and a leading expert on experimental philosophy, Alberto Vanzo. _The Idea of Principles in Early Modern Thought_ charts the terrain of one of the period’s central concepts for the first time, and opens up new lines for further research. (shrink)
This paper argues that, while Locke’s unstable usage of the term ‘mind’ prevents us from claiming that he had a theory of mind, it can still be said that he made a contribution to the philosophy of mind in its contemporary sense. After establishing that it was the term ‘soul’ that predominated in early modern British philosophy, the paper turns to Locke’s three central notions of the soul, the understanding, and the person. It is argued that there are two stages (...) to the development of Locke’s view of the soul: a first philosophical stage and a later theological stage. The first stage is characterized by the application of the material/immaterial distinction. The second stage rejects the utility of this distinction. The two stages are not, however, incompatible, for the bridge between them is found in Locke’s conceptions of the understanding and personhood. While the latter theological stage was, in the end, of the greatest concern to Locke, it is in the earlier philosophical stage that we find his real contribution to what we now call the philosophy of mind. (shrink)
This paper argues that the construction of natural histories, as advocated by Francis Bacon, played a central role in John Locke's conception of method in natural philosophy. It presents new evidence in support of John Yolton's claim that "the emphasis upon compiling natural histories of bodies ... was the chief aspect of the Royal Society's programme that attracted Locke, and from which we need to understand his science of nature". Locke's exposure to the natural philosophy of Robert Boyle, the medical (...) philosophy of Thomas Sydenham, his interest in travel literature and his conception of the division of the sciences are examined. From this survey, a cumulative case is presented which establishes, independently of an in-depth exegesis of his Essay Concerning Human Understanding, the central role for Locke of the construction of natural histories in natural philosophy. (shrink)
This paper argues that the English philosopher John Locke, who has normally been thought to have had only an amateurish interest in botany, was far more involved in the botanical science of his day than has previously been known. Through the presentation of new evidence deriving from Locke’s own herbarium, his manuscript notes, journal and correspondence, it is established that Locke made a modest contribution to early modern botany. It is shown that Locke had close and ongoing relations with the (...) Bobarts, keepers of the Oxford Botanic Garden, and that Locke distributed seeds and plant parts to other botanists, seeds of which the progeny almost certainly ended up in the most important herbaria of the period. Furthermore, it is claimed that the depth of Locke’s interest in and practice of botany has a direct bearing on our understanding of his views on the correct method of natural philosophy and on the interpretation of his well known discussion of the nature of species in Book III of his Essay concerning human understanding. (shrink)
This paper presents a comprehensive study of Robert Boyle’s writings on seminal principles or seeds. It examines the role of seeds in Boyle’s account of creation, the generation of plants and animals, spontaneous generation, the generation of minerals and disease. By an examination of all of Boyle’s major extant discussions of seeds it is argued that there were discernible changes in Boyle’s views over time. As the years progressed Boyle became more sceptical about the role of seminal principles in the (...) generation of minerals and he came to reject the spontaneous generation of insects and animals from putrefying matter. It is also argued that Boyle’s notion of a generative or ‘plastick’ principle creates a tension within his mechanical philosophy. He appeals to a plastick power in order to explain those phenomena of generation that are beyond the explanatory resources of the corpuscular hypothesis. However, when pressed to explain the nature of this power he either hints, somewhat paradoxically, that it too can be explained mechanically or admits his nescience. (shrink)
This volume explores the themes of vanishing matter, matter and the laws of nature, the qualities of matter, and the diversity of the debates about matter in the early modern period. Chapters are unified by a number of interlocking themes which together enable some of the broader contours of the philosophy of matter to be charted in new ways. Part I concerns Cartesian Matter; Part II covers Matter, Mechanism and Medicine; Part III covers Matter and the Laws of Motion; and (...) Part IV covers Leibniz and Hume. Bringing together some of the world’s leading scholars of early modern philosophy, as well as some exciting new researchers, _Vanishing Matter and the Laws of Motion _stakes out new territory that all serious scholars of early modern philosophy and science will want to traverse. (shrink)
This collection of new essays on John Locke's philosophy provides the most up-to-date entrée into the exciting developments taking place in the study of one of the most important contributors to modern thought. Covering Locke's natural philosophy, his political and moral thought and his philosophy of religion, this book brings together the pioneering work of some of the world's leading Locke scholars.
Two medical essays in the hand of John Locke survive amongst the Shaftesbury Papers in the National Archives (National Archives PRO 30/24/47/2, ff. 31r–38v and ff. 49r–56r). Since the 1960s their authorship has been disputed. Some scholars have attributed them to the London physician Thomas Sydenham, others have attributed them to Locke. Detailed analyses of their contents and the context of their composition provide very strong evidence for Lockean authorship. This is reinforced by the application of the most recent techniques (...) of computational stylistics. (shrink)
This paper gives a detailed analysis of four seed lists in the journals of John Locke. These lists provide a window into a fascinating open network of botanical exchange in the early 1680s which included two of the leading botanists of the day. Pierre Magnol of Montpellier and Jacob Bobart the Younger of Oxford. The provenance and significance of the lists are assessed in relation to the relevant extant herbaria and plant catalogues from the period. The lists and associated correspondence (...) provide the main evidence for Locke's own important, through modest contribution to early modern botany, a contribution which he would have regarded as a small part of the broader project of constructing a natural history of plants. They also provide a detailed case study of the sort of open and informal network of knowledge exchange in the early modern period that is widely recognised by historians of science, but all too rarely illustrated. (shrink)
This paper analyses the different ways in which Isaac Newton employed queries in his writings on natural philosophy. It is argued that queries were used in three different ways by Newton and that each of these uses is best understood against the background of the role that queries played in the Baconian method that was adopted by the leading experimenters of the early Royal Society. After a discussion of the role of queries in Francis Bacon’s natural historical method, Newton’s queries (...) in his Trinity Notebook are shown to reveal the influence of his early reading in the new experimental philosophy. Then after a discussion of Robert Hooke’s view of the role of queries, the paper turns to an assessment of Newton’s correspondence and Opticks. It is argued that the queries in his correspondence with Oldenburg on his early optical experiments are closely tied to an experimental program, whereas the queries in the Opticks are more discursive and speculative, but that each of these uses of queries represents a significant Baconian legacy in his natural philosophical methodology.Author Keywords: Bacon; Experiment; Hypothesis; Method; Newton; Query. (shrink)
This article examines the views of René Descartes, Robert Boyle, and John Locke on essence and kinds and outlines the polemical stances that motivate and direct each of their views. It describes the ontological categories to which they subscribed and their own speculative theories about the actual kinds in the world. It categories to which they subscribed and their own speculative theories about the actual kinds in the world and discusses the late-Aristotelian theory of substantial forms.
Serious philosophical reflection on the nature of experiment began in earnest in the seventeenth century. This paper expounds the most influential philosophy of experiment in seventeenth-century England, the Bacon-Boyle-Hooke view of experiment. It is argued that this can only be understood in the context of the new experimental philosophy practised according to the Baconian theory of natural history. The distinctive typology of experiments of this view is discussed, as well as its account of the relation between experiment and theory. This (...) leads into an assessment of other recent discussions of early modern experiment, namely, those of David Gooding, Thomas Kuhn, J.E. Tiles and Peter Dear. (shrink)
The chapter examines the views of John Locke on the study of human understanding, focusing on his work entitled An Essay concerning Human Understanding and Of the Conduct of the Understanding. It highlights Locke's use of the Stoic tripartite division of knowledge into natural philosophy, ethics, and logic, and his emphasis on the importance of the senses in the acquisition of sensitive knowledge of the natural world. The chapter also discusses the normative aims for the study of the understanding, and (...) the relation between understanding and the will. (shrink)
The seventeenth century marked a critical phase in the emergence of modern science. But we misunderstand this process, if we assume that seventeenth-century modes of natural inquiry were identical to the highly specialised, professionalised and ever proliferating family of modern sciences practised today.
This article assesses the role of the laws of the French logician and educational reformer Petrus Ramus in the writings of Francis Bacon. The laws of Ramus derive from Aristotle’s grounds for necessary propositions. Necessary propositions, according to Aristotle, Ramus, and Bacon, are required for the premises of scientific syllogisms. It is argued that in Bacon’s Advancement of Learning and De augmentis scientiarum the only role for these laws is in the transmission of knowledge that has already been acquired. However, (...) in the early Valerius Terminus Bacon also considered them to be relevant to the interpretation of nature. Interestingly, this, in turn, sheds light on the two precepts for the discovery of forms in Aphorism 4 of Book Two of the Novum organum that appear to derive from Valerius Terminus. All of this bears importantly on Bacon’s views on the problem of gaining epistemic access to the inner natures or forms of things. (shrink)