Boyle and the origins of modern chemistry: Newman tried in the fire

Alan Chalmers

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    16 Citations (Scopus)


    William Newman construes the Scientific Revolution as a change in matter theory, from a hylomorphic, Aristotelian to a corpuscular, mechanical one. He sees Robert Boyle as making a major contribution to that change by way of his corpuscular chemistry. In this article it is argued that it is seriously misleading to identify what was scientific about the Scientific Revolution in terms of a change in theories of the ultimate structure of matter. Boyle showed, especially in his pneumatics, how empirically accessible, intermediate causes, as opposed to ultimate, mechanical ones can be explored and identified by experiment. Newman is right to observe that Boyle constantly sought intimate links between chemistry and the mechanical philosophy. However, by doing so he did not thereby significantly aid the cause of attaining experimental knowledge of chemical phenomena and the support that Boyle's chemistry provided for the mechanical philosophy was weaker than both Boyle and Newman imply. Boyle was intent on articulating and defending a strict, mechanical account of the ultimate structure of matter to be sure, but his contributions to the new experimental science in general, and chemistry in particular, are best seen as distinct from that endeavour.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1-10
    Number of pages10
    JournalStudies in History and Philosophy of Science
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - Mar 2010


    • Chemistry
    • Corpuscular philosophy
    • Experiment
    • Mechanical philosophy
    • Robert Boyle
    • William Newman


    Dive into the research topics of 'Boyle and the origins of modern chemistry: Newman tried in the fire'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this