Article ID: CBB506010564

Daring to Conjecture in Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-Century Sciences (2022)


This essay explores seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century programs of natural inquiry where conjecture—an uncertain category of knowledge—played a vital role in the advancement of the sciences. It shows how early modern investigators used conjectures as a bridge between knowledge and ignorance and the process of conjecturing as a way to expand the mental state of inquiry. In publishing their conjectures, they were heeding Francis Bacon’s call to inspire hope and urge fellow experimenters to continue researching complex natural phenomena. Fellow investigators could help to test, verify, revise, invalidate, or propose new inferences in a dialectical, collaborative process. The author argues that, by the eighteenth century, public conjecturing marked a particular kind of broad-minded experimental philosopher. This essay situates conjectures within agnotology—the study of culturally produced ignorance—and Baconian communication of knowledge and ignorance. It explores the philosophical and moral tensions investigators navigated when specifying nature’s unknowns.

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Authors & Contributors
Anstey, Peter R.
Chalmers, Alan Francis
Yeo, Richard R.
Wragge-Morley, Alexander
Strazzoni, Andrea
Sacco, Francesco G.
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science
Centaurus: International Magazine of the History of Mathematics, Science, and Technology
History of Science
Eighteenth-Century Studies
Springer International Publishing
University of Chicago Press
Polity Press
Oxford University Press
Experiments and experimentation
Philosophy of science
Natural philosophy
Natural history
Experimental philosophy
Boyle, Robert
Hooke, Robert
Volder, Burchardus de
Vallisneri, Antonio
Willis, Thomas
Ray, John
Time Periods
17th century
18th century
19th century
Early modern
21st century
Great Britain
Royal Society of London

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