The considerations of the curious: natural philosophy in early modern Dublin
Citation:HEMMENS, SUSAN ELIZABETH, The considerations of the curious: natural philosophy in early modern Dublin, Trinity College Dublin.School of English, 2019
Hemmens Thesis May 2019 mirrored margins.pdf (PhD thesis, examined and approved) 2.654Mb
This thesis offers a re-evaluation of the activities and mindset of a community of natural philosophers who described themselves as curious: the members of the Dublin Philosophical Society (1683–1709) (DPS) and their circle in Ireland and further afield. Although they sometimes perceived themselves as being on the periphery of the learned world, members of the DPS engaged self-consciously and with reflection in that world, and with emerging findings in natural history, cosmology and chymistry. The thesis argues that the DPS, along with like-minded individuals in Ireland and abroad, participated in the making of knowledge in ways that they regarded as new. By way of a series of case studies, influences on the DPS are delineated, the workings of the society are detailed, and the reception of its outputs by peers in the learned world are discussed. In both rhetoric and experimental activity, the members of the DPS rejected speculation and promoted the search for ?matters of fact?. Yet later historians have sometimes characterised the society as too often concerned with the bizarre and claimed that their experiments lacked system and purpose. The impetus for the present thesis was provided as much by an apparent disparity between the representation of the activities of the DPS in its own time and the subsequent evaluation of those activities by historians as by an enduring curiosity as to how and why these people had thought and acted as they did. Historians of science have become increasingly aware of topics significant in the seventeenth century but excluded from the modern account. While alchemy has been fully re-integrated into views of chymistry as a totality of laboratory practice, the detailed seventeenth-century enquiry into the nature of the earth and the reliability of biblical texts and chronologies has relatively recently found a more thorough integration into the wider views of history of science. This thesis argues that inclusion of these less prominent topics in the narrative, as well as less prominent individuals and groups such as the DPS, permits a more nuanced description of the processes of intellectual change. Similarly, attention to individuals, and their confessional, social, and political context, is necessary to present a rounded view of the motivations and outcomes of processes of intellectual change. The narrative presented in the thesis supports this more complex view, showing how a community could listen with apparently equal interest to an account of acid and alkali and to a commentary on the authenticity of the biblical texts of the Old Testament. It draws upon case studies of topics in natural history, in cosmology, and in laboratory investigations to show how the interests of the DPS and their circle intersected with the concepts generated by major figures and groupings in the learned world. In particular, the thesis finds a significant role for the DPS in the reception of concepts advanced by the highly influential Irish chymist Robert Boyle. It explores the role of the community in the spreading of conviction regarding matters of fact, and the making of knowledge from report. Roles and experimental styles taken up by those who, like the members of the DPS, found themselves on a geographical, if not an intellectual, periphery, were found to vary according to the topic under investigation. Observations in natural history were broadly descriptive and those in astronomy, broadly collaborative, while it was in laboratory studies that the practice of the members of the DPS was shown to be strongly influenced by Boyle, in terms both of his concepts of the corpuscular nature of matter and of his use of systematic experiment both in vitro and in vivo. The record of the activities of the DPS has been examined several times since its own day. It was significant enough to attract the attention of Sir William Wilde in the nineteenth century. It has since been studied primarily because of the connections of individual members with particular major figures (William Molyneux with John Locke, for example) and almost equally because of the intimate connections between the DPS and its more famous model, the Royal Society. For this thesis, the interest lies in the individuals as people formed in a culture and their interactions as a community of inquiry. The case studies presented re-evaluate the activities of the circle of the curious in early modern Dublin as they witnessed matters of fact. By repeating and extending observations, they convinced themselves and their correspondents as to the knowledge they had accumulated, contributing to the dissemination of the matters of facts themselves, and a culture of regard for those facts. Evidence presented in the case studies of topics in natural history, in cosmology, and in laboratory investigations shows the intersection of the views of the DPS with the concepts developed by more prominent figures and groups in the learned world. Support is offered for the proposal that a search for reproducibility and a pattern of self-correction characterised the philosophical community as a whole, contributing to the process of intellectual change over time.
Author: HEMMENS, SUSAN ELIZABETH
Publisher:Trinity College Dublin. School of English. Discipline of English
Type of material:Thesis
Availability:Full text available