Article ID: CBB607498250

Experiments in the Making: Instruments and Forms of Quantification in Francis Bacon’s Historia Densi et Rari (2020)


The Historia densi et rari, published posthumously in 1658, is probably Francis Bacon’s most complex natural and experimental history. It contains observations and experimental reports, quantitative estimates and tables, and theoretical and methodological considerations, in a structure which has never been fully investigated. I provide here a fresh reading of this text from the perspective of scientific practices. I claim that Historia densi et rari represents a quantitative and instrumental investigation assembled with the help of Bacon’s philosophy of experiment as developed in the Novum organum. I first discuss the role played in the Historia densi et rari by the various instances of special power in delineating the object of research. I then analyze the ways in which a special class of instances of special power, the “mathematical instances,” are used in the Historia densi et rari to make the inquiry both more precise, and more abstract. Bacon used mathematical instances to transform traditional recipes of pneumatics into quantitative, more general investigations into universal motions and processes. Finally, I discuss two examples of scientific practice at work: the attempt to use instruments to gradually define and clarify “proper” (i.e., scientific) notions of “rarefaction” and “condensation,” and the redefinition of a metaphysical concept (plica materiae) in instrumental and operational terms.

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Article Cesare Pastorino (2020) Exploration and Experimentation on the Weight and Density of Substances in the Sixteenth and Early Seventeenth Centuries: Introduction. Early Science and Medicine: A Journal for the Study of Science, Technology and Medicine in the Pre-modern Period (pp. 297-301). unapi

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Authors & Contributors
Jalobeanu, Dana
Rusu, Doina-Cristina
Zuidervaart, Huibert Jan
Anstey, Peter R.
Avramov, Iordan
Clulee, Nicholas H.
Early Science and Medicine: A Journal for the Study of Science, Technology and Medicine in the Pre-modern Period
British Journal for the History of Science
Annals of Science: The History of Science and Technology
Centaurus: International Magazine of the History of Mathematics, Science, and Technology
Circumscribere: International Journal for the History of Science
History of European Ideas
The Robert Boyle Project
State University of New York at Stony Brook
Natural philosophy
Experiments and experimentation
Scientific apparatus and instruments
Natural history
Societies; institutions; academies
Measuring instruments
Bacon, Francis, 1st Baron Verulam
Boyle, Robert
Browne, Thomas
Newton, Isaac
Acosta, José de
Dee, John
Time Periods
17th century
16th century
Early modern
18th century
Royal Society of London

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