Science Old and New: Physics

  • Beverley C. Southgate
Part of the International Archives of the History of Ideas / Archives Internationales D’Histoire Des Idés book series (ARCH, volume 134)


“Father not these your atoms upon Aristotle.... Let Democritus enjoy his own conceits.”1 These words from Alexander Ross are addressed to Kenelm Digby, but the message, and the implied rebuke, might with equal reason have been directed at Thomas White. Indeed, one of the latter’s critics makes a similar complaint: the title Peripateticall Institutions is clearly intended to convey its author’s Aristotelian ancestry and emphasis, but are such claims justified by the contents? ‘S.W.’ is clear that, on the contrary, “We have nothing in this School, but under the title of ‘Peripatetick’ [i.e. Aristotelian] ... an Epicurean, Lucretian Philosophy.”2 Joseph Glanvill, later in the century, agrees that the atomism propounded by both Digby and White is derived from Democritus and Epicurus, and is therefore the very reverse of that Aristotelianism, the followers of which they claim to be. So, he asserts, “The Digbaean, Atomical Opinion is notoriously known to have been the way of Democritus and Epicurus, which Aristotle frequently and professedly opposeth” and as for White himself, he assuredly “is one of the first that asserts Aristotle to have taught the Corpuscularian and Atomical Philosophy.”3 What concerns Ross, ‘S.W.’, and Glanvill from their various standpoints is that, while Digby and White are claiming to remain Aristotelians, they have in fact in their physics adopted the rival and even antithetical position of atomism; or rather, as ‘S.W.’ clarifies, have presented an attempted synthesis of these seemingly incompatible theories, contriving, as he puts it, “a medley of both.”


Mechanical Philosophy Atomical Opinion Minute Particle Aristotelian Tradition Ultimate Constituent 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1993

Authors and Affiliations

  • Beverley C. Southgate
    • 1
  1. 1.University of HertfordshireUK

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