plate, the scholar in his study is surrounded by the new instruments
of navigation, drafting, and surveying. An armillary sphere, a compass,
an octant, several books, and other measuring tools sit on the table
at left. In the left foreground, a lodestone floats on a raft of
wood in a wine cooler. The model galleon suspended from the ceiling
contrasts to the single-masted, oared Mediterranean vessel that
can be seen through the window. The juxtaposition of instruments
and books on the scholar's desk indicates the coming together of
the hitherto generally separate traditions of practice and theory.
Out of their union, the new experimental philosophy emerged.
In the seventeenth
century, practitioners of this new experimental philosophy came
to view themselves as purveyors of a new kind of knowledge. In the
wake of their claims, broad epistemological conflicts developed
over the concepts of experience and experiment. These conflicts
are examined by Peter Dear and Adrian Johns, among others. The conflicts
threatened the dominant Aristotelian sense of common experience
as that which was acknowledged by all and therefore required no
demonstration (e.g., if you drop a brick, it will fall downwards).
The new experimental philosophers posited instead that truth claims
were to be subject to particular experiments. Often such experiments
required complex apparatus, such as the air pump, that could be
constructed and manipulated only by experts. Thus the status of
the experimental philosophy as philosophical knowledge was problematic;
how could it be universally accepted if it relied on particular
experiences and events available only to a few individual experts?
Although, in many
cases, experimental philosophers exaggerated their complete break
with the natural philosophy of the past, several points of difference
can be identified between the new experimental philosophy and the
natural philosophy of the ancient and medieval periods. The experimental
philosophers sought explanations in terms of mechanisms more often
than causes. Although they did not always acknowledge their debt,
the methods of the experimental philosophers drew from the ways
in which craftspeople manipulated natural materials. Individuals
who called themselves "new philosophers" were a more diverse
group than natural philosophers in the past, and they were sometimes
newly arrived in the republic of letters. In addition, venues for
natural philosophical practice shifted from the universities to
other sites-royal courts, the new academies such as the Royal Society
that emphasized experimentation, craft workshops, and even private
residences. Investigators proclaimed themselves active experimenters
rather than bookish contemplators, interested not in system building,
but in the active collection of experience.
Their standards of
proof and their modes of legitimating their knowledge also differed
markedly from the kinds of investigations that had come before.
They couched their proofs in the terms of individual narratives
of experimental practice rather than general logical demonstration.
Thomas Sprat (1635-1713) in The History of the Royal Society
(1667) laid out the correct comportment of the natural philosopher
and the ideal natural philosophical community. Although very different
as individuals, Galileo Galilei (1564-1624), Robert Boyle (1627-91),
and, eventually, Isaac Newton (1643-1727), became model natural
philosophers for their contemporaries. All three viewed instruments
as part of nature, and all used mathematical arguments to make truth
claims in natural philosophical and physical knowledge. Not all
seventeenth-century philosophers accepted the epistemological claims
of these natural philosophers as unproblematic, however. Thomas
Hobbes (1588-1679) disputed them outright, while individuals such
as Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) conducted natural philosophical investigation
that combined older modes of legitimating knowledge with the use
of philosophical instruments and mechanical theorizing.
Revolution is often rightly viewed as a period of great theoretical
change in natural philosophy. But it would be a mistake to view
it solely in this way; it can also be seen as a period of transformation
in attitudes to experience and to practice. In the sixteenth and
seventeenth centuries, practices involving the investigation of
nature changed, and the kinds of people who pursued such investigations
expanded. Natural knowledge became a resource by which a great variety
of individuals made claims to authority and intellectual legitimacy.
As "experiment" came to replace "experience,"
knowledge of nature, based upon the new experimental philosophy,
came to occupy a central place in early modern culture.