It seems appropriate to consider the Royal Society in its early years in a symposium concerned with the shapes of knowledge, because the foundation of this Society in 1660 is often taken—either symbolically or literally—as a significant event in the evolution of attitudes towards different forms of learning, and particularly in the process of upgrading empirical and inductively-based knowledge at the expense of deduction and erudition. What is more, quite a number of statements of principle emanated from the Society and its active supporters in its early years about the most effective method of scientific inquiry, the proper ends of knowledge, and the demarcation between science and other intellectual pursuits. Perhaps the best known of such statements is the promotional History of the Royal Society written by Thomas Sprat and published in 1667. But there are a number of others, which I will refer to in the course of this essay, both by Fellows of the Society and by other contemporaries associated with the new philosophy, whom I will quietly conflate with the Society, since all of them enthusiastically supported the Society’s role as a figurehead for enterprise of the kind to which it was devoted.


Royal Society Natural Philosopher British Library Intellectual Pursuit Event Compromise 
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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1991

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  • Michael Hunter

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