The Interplay of Structure and Essence in Sennert's Corpuscular Theory

in Atoms and Alchemy

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print May 2006 | ISBN: 9780226576961
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226577036 | DOI:
The Interplay of Structure and Essence in Sennert's Corpuscular Theory

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The empirical character of Sennert's atomism reveals itself further in his refusal to speculate on the shapes, arrangements, motions, or other imperceptible characteristics of his corpuscles. As Sennert presented two complementary sources of qualitative difference—namely, the structural characteristics of his corpuscles and the essences residing in their substantial forms—this chapter attempts to disentangle the divergent realms in which these two types of agency work. The chapter first considers the structural operations of the corpuscles and then returns to the qualities flowing from their substantial forms. Sennert upheld three sorts of corpuscular activity—the Democritean association of atoms called synkrisis, the parallel dissociation of atoms referred to as diakrisis, and the vaguely described rearrangement of atoms that Sennert dubbed “immutation.” The importance of corpuscular aggregation in changing the perceptible properties of matter receives further elaboration in Sennert's consideration of “sugar of lead” or lead acetate. Sennert's explanation of chymical reduction locked the forms safely within their material vehicles, the atoms, and allowed them to persist in the face of the technological assault stemming from those striking agents of qualitative change, the mineral acids.

Keywords: corpuscular theory; Daniel Sennert; alchemy; atomism; corpuscles; synkrisis; diakrisis; immutation; chymical reduction

Chapter.  13163 words. 

Subjects: History of Science and Technology

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