Chapter

A Concise Conclusion

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: http://dx.doi.org/10.7208/chicago/9780226577036.003.0009
A Concise Conclusion

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Every survey of the scientific revolution highlights the importance of Boyle's mechanical philosophy, but the precise relationship of this doctrine to the immediate matter theory that it replaced has until now received uniformly short shrift. Few historians have appreciated the fact that the mechanical philosophy, as formulated by Robert Boyle, was itself the capstone to a preexisting tradition employing alchemy to recast scholastic theories of mixture, an attempt at reform whose roots extended well into the Middle Ages. Nor do we find a common awareness of the fact that Boyle's most significant experimental evidence for the persistence of microlevel corpuscles and for the mechanical character of the accidental qualities induced upon and removed from those corpuscles stemmed from the reduction to the pristine state originating in the alchemical tradition and made famous in the early seventeenth century by Daniel Sennert. The radical character of these claims justifies some comment from a methodological perspective. Despite the novelty of its results, the picture that this book paints of medieval and early modern matter theory employs traditional tools of textual scholarship and intellectual history to subvert the complacent story that has become canonical in the existing surveys of the scientific revolution.

Keywords: scientific revolution; mechanical philosophy; Robert Boyle; alchemy; corpuscular theory; Daniel Sennert; Middle Ages; microlevel corpuscles; seventeenth century

Chapter.  4024 words. 

Subjects: History of Science and Technology

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