Article ID: CBB001021651

Boyle and the Origins of Modern Chemistry: Newman Tried in the Fire (2010)


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.


Description Challenges William Newman's view of the Scientific Revolution as linked to a change in matter theory.

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Article Newman, William R. (2010) How Not to Integrate the History and Philosophy of Science: A Reply to Chalmers. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science (p. 203). unapi

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Authors & Contributors
Boantza, Victor D.
Newman, William Royall
Banchetti-Robino, Marina Paola
Clericuzio, Antonio
Cook, Margaret G.
Stewart, Larry R.
Early Science and Medicine: A Journal for the Study of Science, Technology and Medicine in the Pre-modern Period
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science
Foundations of Chemistry
Osiris: A Research Journal Devoted to the History of Science and Its Cultural Influences
Notes and Records: The Royal Society Journal of the History of Science
Annals of Science: The History of Science and Technology
Oxford University Press
Kluwer Academic
Ashgate Publishing
Indiana University
Mechanism; mechanical philosophy
Matter theory
Pneumatic chemistry
Boyle, Robert
Lavoisier, Antoine Laurent
More, Henry
Helmont, Jan Baptista van
Paracelsus, Theophrast von Hohenheim
Duclos, Samuel Cottereau
Time Periods
17th century
18th century
Early modern
16th century
19th century
Great Britain
Bath (England)
Accademia del Cimento, Florence
Royal Society of London
Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

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