Living and Dead Matter

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:
Living and Dead Matter

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Mid‐eighteenth century studies of electricity and chemistry encouraged an understanding of matter as something active, but they were unable to offer any account of what this activity was in general terms, and to what extent it characterized matter beyond the local phenomena that these disciplines studied. A general account of the activity of matter was needed if there was to be a hope of replacing what many considered the now defunct mechanist model. Such a general account emerged in natural history in the 1740s, as it became transformed, especially in the work of Buffon, into a powerful, large‐scale form of natural philosophy in which matter as conceived by mechanists became merely a sub‐species when matter was construed in its most general terms. With Buffon, a developmental understanding of matter emerges.

Keywords: matter theory; George‐Louis Buffon; natural history; mechanism; developmental accounts of nature

Chapter.  15804 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy of Science

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