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Physico-Theology, Natural Philosophy, and Sensory Experience

Physico-Theology, Natural Philosophy, and Sensory Experience

(p.22) 1 Physico-Theology, Natural Philosophy, and Sensory Experience
Aesthetic Science
Alexander Wragge-Morley
University of Chicago Press

This chapter reassesses the relationship between physico-theology—the main body of works in which philosophers such as Robert Boyle, Nehemiah Grew, and John Ray advanced claims about how nature should be experienced—and their empirical approach to the study of nature. For the most part, physico-theology has been interpreted as an apologetic discourse, intended to deflect accusations of religious impropriety leveled against practitioners of the new philosophy. By contrast, this chapter shows that physico-theology and natural philosophy had a lot in common. Moreover, it shows that Ray and his contemporaries saw the two practices as components of a broader project of empirical knowledge production. The chapter concludes by suggesting that it is time to take the affective and moral claims of physico-theology more seriously, considering the possibility that they were integral to the aims of the empirical natural philosophy practiced by many of the Royal Society’s leading members. In addition, it proposes that the rhetoric characteristic of much physico-theology was crucial to the representational practices of natural philosophy. The chapter suggests, in other words, that the pleasurable rhetoric of physico-theology had a far greater role in the explanatory practices of empiricism than has so far been recognized.

Keywords:   physico-theology, natural theology, rhetoric, John Ray, Robert Boyle, natural philosophy, design argument, teleology, final causes

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