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Home Robert Boyle, Baconian Science, and the Rise of Chemistry in the Seventeenth Century

 ROBERT BOYLE, BACONIAN SCIENCE, AND THE RISE OF CHEMISTRY IN THE SEVENTEENTH CENTURY

Thomas SUKOPP

Abstract.

This paper aims to achieve a better understanding of Robert Boyle as one of the main figures in seventeenth century chemistry. Focusing on his correspondence, we try to analyse the following complex and still not sufficiently understood contexts: a) Boyle is well known for his conduct of “Baconian science,” but it is incorrect to call him a pure mechanist or a cold-blooded experimentalist. In many respects, Boyle is a Baconian, but it has to be clarified what this means and why it matters with respect to the rise of chemistry as an early modern science. b) The role of modern chemistry – if we let it begin in the seventeenth century – can better be understood when we analyse its metaphysical presuppositions, which are closely related to mechanism and supernaturalism. c) Boyle pointed out one basic feature of chemistry as a science, i.e., the necessity of focusing on practical, e.g., technical aspects of experiment design. Furthermore, Boyle provides us with an example of how we can understand the various relations between actors such as scientists, craftsmen, and technicians.

Keywords: Boyle, developments in chemistry in the seventeenth century, alchemy, Baconian programme, mechanism, supernaturalism

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