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Essaying Chymistry

Essaying Chymistry

(p.131) 3 Essaying Chymistry
The Transmutations of Chymistry
Lawrence M. Principe
University of Chicago Press

Chief among Homberg’s long-term goals was the formulation of a comprehensive and experimentally-based theory of chymistry. Chapter 3 provides a close examination of Homberg’s first attempt, in the 1690s, to develop such a theory. In attempting to write a textbook, Homberg diverged significantly from the established seventeenth-century French didactic tradition, thus highlighting the distinctness of his own vision of chymistry. This chapter begins the examination (continued in Chapter 4) of how scientific theories develop and how individual observations are crafted into broader explanatory theories. Chymistry provides a special case, thanks to the complicated results that chymical experiments ordinarily provide, full of qualitative data and, as Homberg insisted, direct sensory information of sight, smell, touch, taste, and occasionally sound. Consequently, an important part of this study focuses on the dynamic character and changing content of scientific ideas and explanations of observations in response to experimental results. A close analysis of Homberg’s constantly changing ideas is made possible by the survival of four sequential versions of his “textbook” of chymistry, two of which, lost for nearly three hundred years, were recovered while carrying out the research for this book.

Keywords:   experiment, theory production, senses, textbooks, didactic tradition

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