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Robert Boyle and the early Royal Society: a reciprocal exchange in the making of Baconian science

Hunter, Michael (2007) Robert Boyle and the early Royal Society: a reciprocal exchange in the making of Baconian science. British Journal for the History of Science 40 (1), pp. 1-23. ISSN 0007-0874.

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Official URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0007087406009083

Abstract

This paper documents an important development in Robert Boyle's natural-philosophical method – his use from the 1660s onwards of ‘heads’ and ‘inquiries’ as a means of organizing his data, setting himself an agenda when studying a subject and soliciting information from others. Boyle acknowledged that he derived this approach from Francis Bacon, but he had not previously used it in his work, and the reason why it came to the fore when it did is not apparent from his printed and manuscript corpus. It is necessary to look beyond Boyle to his milieu for the cause, in this case to the influence on him of the Royal Society. Whereas the Royal Society in its early years is often seen as putting into practice a programme pioneered by Boyle, this crucial methodological change on his part seems rather to have been stimulated by the society's early concern for systematic data-collecting. In this connection, it is here shown that a key text, Boyle's influential ‘General Heads for a Natural History of a Country, Great or small’, published in Philosophical Transactions in 1666, represents more of a shared initiative between him and the society than has hitherto been appreciated.

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: This paper is a revised version of a guest lecture given to the British Society for the History of Science at its extraordinary general meeting at the Royal Society on 8 June 2005. Earlier versions of part of it were given (and have been cited) under different titles at the 2nd International Bacon Seminar at Queen Mary, University of London, in September 2001; at Johns Hopkins University and Vanderbilt University in March 2002; and at a European Science Foundation workshop at the Herzog August Bibliothek, Wolfenbüttel, in March 2004.
School or Research Centre: Birkbeck Schools and Research Centres > School of Social Sciences, History and Philosophy > History, Classics and Archaeology > The Robert Boyle Project (OLD)
Depositing User: Sandra Plummer
Date Deposited: 02 Jul 2008 13:08
Last Modified: 17 Apr 2013 12:33
URI: http://eprints.bbk.ac.uk/id/eprint/698

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