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Who was Robert Boyle?

Robert Boyle (1627-1691) was the fourteenth child of the first Earl of Cork, who was the richest man in England. As the founder of modern chemistry, Boyle devoted his life to scientific investigation and methodology. He was well-received at the British Court, and a member of the council of the Royal Society, although he declined its presidency and the provostship of Eton because he did not want to "take oaths." When he retired to a house in Pall Mall after a stroke at age 42, he maintained his own laboratory. Boyle's goal was to replace Aristotelian mechanics with explanations using just two things: matter and motion. He was also a champion of the new atomism, or "corpuscular theory." Boyle's most famous works were New Experiments; Physico-Mechanical Touching the Spring of the Air and Its effects, The Skeptical Chemist, and The Experimental History of Colors. He also wrote a religious novel, Seraphic Love.

Who were some of Robert Boyle's scientific influences?

Pierre Gassendi (1592-1655) and Walter Charlton (1619-1707) influenced Boyle. In 1656 Charlton brought Gassendi's ideas about atoms to England with his Physiologia Epicuro-Gassendo-Chartonia; or, a Fabrick of Science Natural, upon the Hyopthesis of Atoms, Founded by Epicurus, Repaired by Petrus Gassendus, Augmented by Walter Charlton (1654). Charleton revised Gassendi's view that everything, including the soul, was made up of material atoms. This view entailed that the soul was a physical thing, which was against the beliefs of most theologians and members of the clergy.

What was Robert Boyle's atomic theory?

Boyle (1627-1691) claimed that the things in the world studied in physics, chemistry, biology, and inquiries into gases and fluids were all made up of atoms. He thought that because atoms could be used to explain and predict what was observable, their existence was an empirical matter and not the results of pure speculation. Unlike Gassendi, who was content to suspend judgment on whether atoms existed, Boyle claimed that atoms did exist, using the method of transdiction.

What was Boyle's method of transdiction?

Boyle (1627-1691) pointed out that our senses are limited, as shown by findings from telescopes and microscopes. He thought that analogy could be used to extend sense knowledge. Atoms or corpuscles could be understood as analogous to objects we can sense. In this sense, atoms have the same principles of action as objects that can be sensed. Boyle backed up his atomic theory with reports of his own experiments, which, based on the premise that atoms exist, confirmed his predictions about gases, solids, and heat.

What were some of the rather humorous experiments carried out by members of the British Royal Society?

The former British comedy troop Monty Python would have had a field day with some of the early investigations conducted by the Royal Society. And King Charles II, who was very interested in experiments in general, loved to make fun of the more preposterous ones. For example, at the Philosophical Society of Oxford—hosted by founding Royal Society secretary John Wilkins (1614-1672), who had written about the "admirable contrivances of natural things" in Mathematical Marvels—there were, among Wilkins' own collection, transparent apiaries and a hollow statue that "spoke" through a concealed pipe.

Robert Boyle (1627-1691) was considered eccentric because he doctored himself and seemed to make a hobby of collecting medical prescriptions. By the time the Royal Society had formed, alchemy had switched from being a science seeking to convert base metals into gold to one with an aim of using new medical discoveries to prolong human life. Nonetheless, in 1689 Boyle worked successfully to get Henry IV's law against "multiplying gold" repealed.

When Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle-upon-Tyne (1623-1673), was granted a visit to the Royal Society in 1667, she was shown experiments involving colors, the mixing of cold liquids, dissolving meat in oil of vitriol, weighing air, the flattening of marbles, magnetism, and "a good microscope." The Duchess wrote in her own diary that the new science was useless for solving social and spiritual problems.

 
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