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INTRODUCTION

Invited editor: Filip BUYSE

Although the habit of letter writing is gradually disappearing today, “writing a message that is written down or printed on paper and usually put in an envelope and sent to somebody” flourished during the seventeenth century.1 In this special issue we concentrate on some of these letters. In particular, we focus on the correspondence of early modern philosophers, in which what we consider today to be scientific topics are discussed.

There was at that time no question yet of a strict distinction between early science and philosophy, however. Philosophy, in fact, was often used as a synonym for science. Nevertheless, the upcoming nuove scienze challenged major philosophers such as Bacon, Descartes, Boyle, Locke and Spinoza to think about metaphysical questions in a new way. The result was the development of novel explanations for natural phenomena. These explanations were new because they differed from the qualitative, peripatetic natural philosophy that had dominated the western view of nature up until then. At the same time, though, such explanations were often inspired by antique philosophies such as the atomism of Democritus and his followers.

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