Chapter

Material Activity

Stephen Gaukroger

in The Collapse of Mechanism and the Rise of Sensibility

Published in print November 2010 | ISBN: 9780199594931
Published online January 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780191595745 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199594931.003.0010
Material Activity

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Eighteenth‐century matter theory—primarily the study of electricity, magnetism, pneumatics, chemistry, and physiology—appears as a network of different kinds of practice having no intrinsic substantial connections with one another, and having no intrinsic relation with the mechanics that had aspired to reduce and unify them. There was a strong widespread reaction against the idea of system‐building. Beginning with an account of the connections made between Newtonianism and the reaction against systematic natural philosophy in favour of experimental natural philosophy, the chapter explores mid‐eighteenth century developments in electricity, above all the work of Benjamin Franklin, and in chemistry, especially the emergence of the idea that in its fundamental state matter is fluid, not solid.

Keywords: electricity; Benjamin Franklin; Newtonianism; matter theory; chemical reactions

Chapter.  13205 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Philosophy of Science

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