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Introduction: The Problematic Position of Alchemy in the Scientific Revolution

Introduction: The Problematic Position of Alchemy in the Scientific Revolution

Chapter:
(p.1) Introduction: The Problematic Position of Alchemy in the Scientific Revolution
Source:
Atoms and Alchemy
Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
DOI:10.7208/chicago/9780226577036.003.0001

This book focuses on the chemistry and the experimental origins of the scientific revolution. The terms “alchemy” and “chymistry” is used as synonyms throughout this book in conformity with the linguistic convention most prevalent in the early modern period. The book shows the pivotal role that alchemy played in the great disjunction between the common view of matter-theory before and after the mid-seventeenth century. It was alchemy that provided corpuscular theorists with the experimental means to debunk scholastic theories of perfect mixture and to demonstrate the retrievability of material ingredients. The book therefore consists of three distinct parts. The first part considers the tradition of corpuscular alchemy in the West from its thirteenth-century inception up until the virulent debate some three centuries later in which the anti-Paracelsian Thomas Erastus and his followers attempted to debunk the matter-theory of the alchemists and in turn received a stinging rebuke from the arch-polemicist and defender of chymistry, Andreas Libavius. In the second part, the text considers Daniel Sennert, seen against the background of this earlier alchemy as well as that of the scholasticism professed by his early modern peers. The third part of the book concerns Boyle's use of Sennert's theory and the experimental basis for it. Boyle's appreciation of Sennert modified over time, but his debt to the German academic is evident even in Boyle's mature work.

Keywords:   enlightenment, alchemy, antiscience, rational chemistry, scientific revolution, Robert Boyle, mechanization, Geber, Daniel Sennert, atomic elements

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