Whereas his contemporaries were explicitly aware that the limits of memory called for scrupulous arrangement of one?s papers, Boyle?s papers remained chaotic throughout his life, necessitating a habitual recourse to memory. This invites consideration of Boyle?s views on the use of memory and notes, taking account of the precepts and options of his day. Like many other early modern virtuosi, Boyle made copious notes comprising both textual extracts and empirical information, but he did not maintain large commonplace books of the (...) kind recommended by Renaissance humanists; nor did he publicize an account of his note?taking methods, as John Locke did. However, through his early contacts with Samuel Hartlib, Boyle was exposed to the ways in which diverse information could be noted, stored and used. Furthermore, his practice exemplified the well?known dual function of notes as both prompting memory and relieving it. Boyle did not pause to write a sustained essay on these issues; nevertheless, scattered throughout his prefaces, advertisements, works, notebooks and manuscripts there are significant comments on his practice of making what he called ?loose notes?. Boyle was aware of the kinds of notes he kept and his reliance on both memory and notes as prompts to reflection and thought. (shrink)
The ArgumentFocusing on the celebrations of Newton and his work, this article investigates the use of the concept of genius and its connection with debates on the methodology of science and the morality of great discoverers. During the period studied, two areas of tension developed. Firstly, eighteenth-century ideas about the relationship between genius and method were challenged by the notion of scientific genius as transcending specifiable rules of method. Secondly, assumptions about the nexus between intellectual and moral virtue were threatened (...) by the emerging conception of genius as marked by an extraordinary personality – on the one hand capable of breaking with established methods to achieve great discoveries, on the other, likely to transgress moral and social conventions. The assesments of Newton by nineteenth-century scientists such as Brewster, Whewell, and De Morgan were informed by these tensions. (shrink)
SUMMARYAmong the elements of the modern scientific ethos, as identified by R.K. Merton and others, is the commitment of individual effort to a long-term inquiry that may not bring substantial results in a lifetime. The challenge this presents was encapsulated in the aphorism of the ancient Greek physician, Hippocrates of Kos: vita brevis, ars longa. This article explores how this complaint was answered in the early modern period by Francis Bacon’s call for the inauguration of the sciences over several generations, (...) thereby imagining a succession of lives added together over time. However, Bacon also explored another response to Hippocrates: the devotion of a ‘whole life’, whether brief or long, to science. The endorsement of long-term inquiry in combination with intensive lifetime involvement was embraced by some leading Fellows of the Royal Society, such as Robert Boyle and Robert Hooke. The problem for individuals, however, was to find satisfaction in science despite concerns, in some fields, that current observations and experiments would not yield material able to be extended by future investigations. (shrink)
In his classic study, The Great Chain of Being, Arthur Lovejoy delineated a complex set of concepts and assumptions which referred to the perfection of God and the fullness of creation. In attempting to distil the basic or ‘unit idea’ which constituted this pattern of thought, he focused on the assumption that ‘the universe is a plenum formarum in which the range of conceivable diversity of kinds of living things is exhaustively exemplified’. He called this the ‘principle of plenitude’. Lovejoy (...) argued that this idea implied two others—continuity and gradation—and that together these reflected a pre-occupation with the ‘necessity of imperfection in all its possible degrees’, a concern which had pervaded Western thought since Plato and gave rise to the powerful ontology known as the ‘great chain of being’. (shrink)
This was edited by the scientist Sir David Brewster (1781-1868) and published in 1830 by William Blackwood (1808-1830). Organised alphabetically, with more than 150 contributors and 360 copperplate illustrations, the encyclopedia was particularly notable for its scientific articles - such as those on electromagnetism and the polarization of light - many of which were written by Brewster himself. Brewster's efforts meant that Scotland had produced a worthy complement, or even rival, to the original Encyclopaedia Britannica.
The common focus of these essays is the debate on the nature of science - often referred to by contemporaries as 'natural knowledge' - in Britain during the first half of the 19th century. A study of these debates allow us to see how British science of this period began to cast loose some of its earlier theological supports, but still relied on a moral framework to affirm its distinctive method, ethos and cultural value.