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Boyle, Sennert, and the Mechanical Philosophy

Boyle, Sennert, and the Mechanical Philosophy

(p.157) 6 Boyle, Sennert, and the Mechanical Philosophy
Atoms and Alchemy
University of Chicago Press

The matter-theory of the physicist refers to the very corpuscularian philosophy to which Boyle devoted his life's work, the explanation of phenomena in terms of matter and motion at the microlevel. Although Boyle's mechanical philosophy certainly owed a heavy debt to other thinkers in the “new science,” particularly Gassendi and Descartes, the fact is that the main experimental support for Boyle's matter theory flowed in a direct line from the scholastic alchemical tradition articulated and refined by Daniel Sennert. This chapter shows that Boyle relied on Sennert's reductions to the pristine state in two quite different, though related, ways. First, the Sennertian examples of metals simply dissolved in acids and then reduced or metals combined with other substances and then restored to their former state by reduction, provided Boyle with the necessary evidence to make the claim that “minima of their own genus” really did exist in nature. Second, he extends the reduction to the pristine state to form an integral part of his program of revealing the mechanical origins of “particular qualities.” The chapter also shows how the British naturalist has reformulated the Sennertian reductio in pristinum statum to become an important weapon in his antihylomorphic arsenal.

Keywords:   Daniel Sennert, Robert Boyle, mechanical philosophy, corpuscularian philosophy, antihylomorphic arsenal

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