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Henry More and the Limits of Mechanism

  • Alan Gabbey
Chapter
Part of the International Archives of the History of Ideas/Archives Internationales d’Histoire des Idées book series (ARCH, volume 127)

Abstract

My title refers to the limitations of the mechanical philosophy as a source of explanations of natural phenomena, and to More’s serious reservations about the mechanical philosophy on those grounds. He was certainly not alone in finding explanatory weaknesses, and corresponding ontological deficiences, in a natural philosophy that purported to account for the natural world in terms of the motion, rest, and position of corporeal particles in various structural combinations, the essential natures of such particles being extension and/or impenetrability. The mechanical philosophy, of whatever variety, was seen by many in the seventeenth century to be ill-equipped to account for everything within the domain of phenomena over which its protagonists claimed exclusive rights of explanation. As its development showed, the effectiveness of mechanical explanations was to lie not in comprehensiveness, but in a selective delimitation of the problem domain, and in following through the implications of an awareness that plausible and appealing explanatory structures on their own were insufficient, but required in addition an ontological content that would permit mathematical description or effective experimental investigation and control,1 without compromising theological or philosophical commitments, where these were thought to be at issue.

Keywords

Seventeenth Century Mechanical Explanation Mechanical Philosophy Philosophical Commitment Ontological Content 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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References

  1. 1.
    See however the excellent article by Christoph Meinel for fresh insight into the reality behind the supposed empirical proofs of atomism in the early seventeenth century, “Early Seventeenth-century Atomism: Theory, Epistemology and the Insufficiency of Experiment”, Isis 79 (1988): 68–103.Google Scholar
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    More CSPW, AA, 46. In the 41st experiment of his New Experiments Boyle put a lark, a sparrow and a mouse into a subsequently evacuated vessel to demonstrate the life-bearing function of air: op. cit., 328–34. In “A Digression Containing Some Doubts Touching Respiration” (ibid., 335–83) Boyle writes of ‘the wise Author of Nature, who, in the excellent contrivance of the Lungs, and other parts of (those admirable Englines) Animals, manifests himself to be indeed what the Eloquent Prophet most justly speaks him, Wonderfull in Councel, and excellent in working [Isaiah 28:29]’. The account of the air-pump sucker experiment in AA carries the marginal reference to “Exper. 23” (More, CSPW, AA, 44). This is an error (not picked up in the Errata), the experiment in question being in fact No. 33 (Boyle, New Experiments, 236–58).Google Scholar
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    Steven Shapin and Simon Schaffer, Leviathan and the Air Pump, 216.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., 224.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht 1990

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alan Gabbey

There are no affiliations available

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