Ideas of Robert Boyle, by Theme

[Irish, 1627 - 1691, Wealthy independent scientist.]

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2. Reason / D. Definition / 4. Real Definition
Essential definitions show the differences that discriminate things, and make them what they are
     Full Idea: Essential definitions are such as are taken from the essential differences of things, which constitute them in such a sort of natural bodies, and discriminate them from all those of any other sort.
     From: Robert Boyle (The Origin of Forms and Qualities [1666], p.41?), quoted by Peter Alexander - Ideas, Qualities and Corpuscles
     A reaction: I don't think this goes as far as the aim Aristotle had in definitions, which was more than merely to 'discriminate' each thing. A full definition explains the thing as well.
8. Modes of Existence / C. Powers and Dispositions / 1. Powers
Boyle attacked a contemporary belief that powers were occult things
     Full Idea: Boyle attacks an idea of powers, held by some modern schoolmen and chemists, that makes powers occult.
     From: report of Robert Boyle (The Origin of Forms and Qualities [1666]) by Peter Alexander - Ideas, Qualities and Corpuscles 03.3
     A reaction: [This involves Boyle's famous example of a key having the power to turn a lock] On p.86 Alexander says the 'occult' belief is in affinities, antipathies, attractions and repulsions. How did Boyle explain magnetism?
8. Modes of Existence / C. Powers and Dispositions / 6. Dispositions / a. Dispositions
In the 17th century, 'disposition' usually just means the spatial arrangement of parts
     Full Idea: In Locke and Boyle, 'disposition' and its various cognates are standardly used to refer to the corpuscular structure of a body - the spatial arrangement of its parts - without reflecting any commitment to a dispositional property.
     From: report of Robert Boyle (The Origin of Forms and Qualities [1666]) by Robert Pasnau - Metaphysical Themes 1274-1671 23.2
     A reaction: Here as a warning against enthusiasts for dispositional properties misreadigmg 17th century texts to their supposed advantage. Pasnau says none of them believe in dispositional properties or real powers.
9. Objects / C. Structure of Objects / 2. Hylomorphism / a. Hylomorphism
Form is not a separate substance, but just the manner, modification or 'stamp' of matter
     Full Idea: I understand the word 'form' to mean, not a real substance distinct from matter, but only the matter itself of a natural body, with its peculiar manner of existence [corpuscular structure], which may be called its 'essential modification' or 'stamp'.
     From: Robert Boyle (The Origin of Forms and Qualities [1666], p.324), quoted by Jan-Erik Jones - Real Essence 3
     A reaction: I don't think Aristotle ever thought that a form was separate from its matter, let alone qualifying as a substance. On the whole, Boyle attacks scholastic philosophy, rather than Aristotle.
To cite a substantial form tells us what produced the effect, but not how it did it
     Full Idea: If it be demanded why rhubarb purges choler, snow dazzles the eyes rather than grass etc., that these effects are performed by substantial forms of the respective bodies is at best but to tell me what is the agent, not how the effect is wrought.
     From: Robert Boyle (The Origin of Forms and Qualities [1666], p.47?), quoted by Peter Alexander - Ideas, Qualities and Corpuscles 01.2
     A reaction: This is the problem of the 'virtus dormitiva' of opium (which at least tells you it was the opium what done it). I take Aristotle to have aspired to a lot more than this. He wanted a full definition, which would contain lots of information about the form.
12. Knowledge Sources / B. Perception / 2. Qualities in Perception / d. Secondary qualities
Boyle's term 'texture' is not something you feel, but is unobservable structures of particles
     Full Idea: Perhaps Boyle's most important technical terms is 'texture'. ...It must not be confused with the way we feel the texture of a surface like sandpaper or velvet; it is rather a structure of unobservable particles and so it is not directly observable.
     From: report of Robert Boyle (The Origin of Forms and Qualities [1666]) by Peter Alexander - Ideas, Qualities and Corpuscles 03.2
     A reaction: This is the basis for Alexander's reassessment of what Boyle and Locke meant by a 'secondary quality', which, he says, is a physical feature of objects, not a mental experience.
Boyle's secondary qualities are not illusory, or 'in the mind'
     Full Idea: There is no suggestion in Boyle that secondary qualities are, unlike primary qualities, somehow illusory, subjective or 'in the mind'.
     From: report of Robert Boyle (The Origin of Forms and Qualities [1666]) by Peter Alexander - Ideas, Qualities and Corpuscles 03.3
     A reaction: [Alexander goes on to say that his also applied to Locke]
14. Science / D. Explanation / 1. Explanation / b. Aims of explanation
Explanation is generally to deduce it from something better known, which comes in degrees
     Full Idea: Generally speaking, to render a reason of an effect or phenomenon is to deduce it from something else in nature more known than itself, and consequently there may be diverse kinds of degrees of explication of the same thing.
     From: Robert Boyle (Certain Physical Essays [1672], II:21), quoted by Robert Pasnau - Metaphysical Themes 1274-1671 23.4
     A reaction: There is a picture of a real explanatory structure to nature, from which we pick bits that interest us for entirely pragmatic reasons. Boyle and I are as one on this matter.
14. Science / D. Explanation / 2. Types of Explanation / i. Explanations by mechanism
Explanation is deducing a phenomenon from some nature better known to us
     Full Idea: Explicating a phenomenon is to deduce it from something else in nature more known to us than the thing to be explained by it.
     From: Robert Boyle (The Origin of Forms and Qualities [1666], p.46?), quoted by Peter Alexander - Ideas, Qualities and Corpuscles
     A reaction: Interesting that the word 'deduce' is here, beloved of the 'covering law' view. But this may be deduced from the behaviour of other substances, as the iron filing behaviour may be explained by the magnet itself (or perhaps 'laws' of magnetism).
14. Science / D. Explanation / 3. Best Explanation / b. Ultimate explanation
The best explanations get down to primary basics, but others go less deep
     Full Idea: Explications be most satisfactory that show how the effect is produced by the more primitive affects of matter (bulk, shape and motion) but are not to be despised that deduce them from more familiar qualities such as heat, weight, fluidity, fermentation.
     From: Robert Boyle (Certain Physical Essays [1672], II:22), quoted by Robert Pasnau - Metaphysical Themes 1274-1671 23.4
     A reaction: [Compressed, and continued from Idea 16736] So there is a causal structure, and the best explanations go to the bottom of it, but lesser explanations only go half way down. So a very skimpy explanation ('dormative power') is still an explanation.
26. Natural Theory / A. Speculations on Nature / 6. Early Matter Theories / g. Atomism
The corpuscles just have shape, size and motion, which explains things without 'sympathies' or 'forces'
     Full Idea: In Boyle's corpuscular philosophy, all material substances are composed of minute particles or corpuscles, with ordinary properties such as shape, size and motion. There was no need for occult relations between them, such as sympathies, or even forces.
     From: report of Robert Boyle (The Origin of Forms and Qualities [1666]) by Peter Alexander - Ideas, Qualities and Corpuscles 01.1
26. Natural Theory / A. Speculations on Nature / 7. Later Matter Theories / b. Corpuscles
The corpuscular theory allows motion, but does not include forces between the particles
     Full Idea: Though there is motion, the corpuscles will not be dynamic because the idea of forces between the particles or groups of them does not figure in the theory.
     From: report of Robert Boyle (The Origin of Forms and Qualities [1666]) by Peter Alexander - Ideas, Qualities and Corpuscles 5.2
     A reaction: This is the view of Locke, as well as of Boyle. I quote this because I take to it be a particular target of Leibniz's disagreement.
27. Natural Reality / G. Biology / 3. Evolution
I don't see how mere moving matter can lead to the bodies of men and animals, and especially their seeds
     Full Idea: I confess I cannot well conceive how from matter, barely put into motion and left to itself, there could emerge such curious fabricks as the bodies of men and perfect animals, and more admirably contrived parcels of matter, as seeds of living creatures.
     From: Robert Boyle (The Sceptical Chemist [1661], p.569), quoted by Peter Alexander - Ideas, Qualities and Corpuscles
     A reaction: This is here to show that one of the most brilliant intellects of the seventeenth century thought carefully about this question and couldn't answer it. Natural selection really was a rather clever idea.