Arnold Boate

(1606—1653) biblical scholar and writer on natural history

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Arnold and Gerard Boate were Dutch physicians and brothers whose careers closely intersected, and whose varied interests in the reform of learning and scientific enquiry in the British Isles were sustained by their involvement in the circle of Samuel Hartlib. It was the younger brother, Arnold, whose interests in early Hebrew texts took him first to London and then to Dublin. Working with Francis Taylor he compared the Greek Septuagint with early Hebrew texts to discover corruptions in the former. The work was in due course published at Leiden in 1636 with a Preface dated from London (Examen praefationis morini in biblia graeca …). From it resulted a correspondence with James Ussher, Archbishop of Armagh, whose interests in biblical erudition were already legendary, and an invitation to Dublin. Arriving there in 1636, Arnold Boate established a thriving medical practice on the basis of recommendations from both Ussher and Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford, then Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. In 1641 he published in collaboration with his brother (by then resident in London as a physician in attendance to King Charles I) a treatise on the reform of natural philosophy. Published in Dublin with a Preface dedicated to Robert Sidney, Strafford's successor as lieutenant, dated from London and Dublin in early July 1641, the treatise reflected the debate about the reform of learning that was then gathering pace alongside the proposals for the wholesale reform in Church and State in the Long Parliament. In the Philosophia naturalis reformata (1641) they attacked the central tenets of the peripatetic philosophy as a means to providing a systematic interpretation of the diversities of nature. They did this by exploiting the flexibility and inventiveness that had given Aristotelian natural philosophy its great diversity. On the fundamental issues of the sense of nature, its active principles, the formal causes by which these active principles were able to originate changes in nature, and its passive principles in prime matter, the Boates were easily able to demonstrate fundamental internal contradictions within the writings of recent Aristotelian commentators. Their medical training had, they said in their Preface, already revealed the glaring inadequacies of Aristotelian physics and this was reinforced by their acquaintance with Paracelsian chemical medicine. In the second part of the work, they sought to outline the principles of a reformed natural philosophy, a manifesto for a ‘libera philosophia’ in which the ‘realia’ would dominate the method by which the principles of nature would be formulated.


From The Continuum Encyclopedia of British Philosophy in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Philosophy.

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