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The Diffident Naturalist

Robert Boyle and the Philosophy of Experiment

In a provocative reassessment of one of the quintessential figures of early modern science, Rose-Mary Sargent explores Robert Boyle’s philosophy of experiment, a central aspect of his life and work that became a model for mid- to late seventeenth-century natural philosophers and for many who followed them.

Sargent examines the philosophical, legal, experimental, and religious traditions—among them English common law, alchemy, medicine, and Christianity—that played a part in shaping Boyle’s experimental thought and practice. The roots of his philosophy in his early life and education, in his religious ideals, and in the work of his predecessors—particularly Bacon, Descartes, and Galileo—are fully explored, as are the possible influences of his social and intellectual circle. Drawing on the full range of Boyle’s published works, as well as on his unpublished notebooks and manuscripts, Sargent shows how these diverse influences were transformed and incorporated into Boyle’s views on and practice of experiment.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Introduction
Overview
Recent Trends
Philosophical Issues
Plan of the Study
Part I. Learning from the Past
1. The Philosophical Tradition
A Philosophical Revolution
A New Alternative
The Pyramid and the Tree
Boyle’s Choice
2. The Legal Tradition
English Common Law
Experience and the Experimental Philosophy
Boyle versus Hobbes
3. The Experimental Tradition
The Physico-Mechanical Tradition
The Alchemical Tradition
The Medical Tradition
Part II. Being a Christian Virtuoso
4. Natural Theology
The Book of Nature and Philosophical Worship
A Free Inquiry
The Corpuscular Philosophy and Physical Causality
Causal Relations and the Essences of Bodies
5. Biblical Hermeneutics
The Two Books
The Interpretation of Scripture
The Interpretation of Nature
Part III. Acting Experimentally
6. Observing
Constructing the Factual Foundation
Collecting Observations
Assessing Credibility
7. Experimenting
Creating an Artificial Environment
The Contingencies of Experiment
Making Experiments
Experimental Strategies
8. Writing
Composing Experimental Essays
Exciting Curiosity
Collaborating
An Experimental History of Cold
Conclusion: The Experimental Process
Boyle’s Philosophy of Experiment
The Significance of Boyle’s Philosophy
Notes
Bibliography
Index

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