Meeting 21

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DATE: Tuesday, December 1

TIME: 1 PM Princeton time (EST) / 8 PM Bucharest time (GMT+2)

PANEL : Experiments of Light

SPEAKERS: Alexandru Liciu (University of Bucharest), Doina-Cristina Rusu (University of Groningen), Hanna Szabelska (Jagiellonian University)


Robert Hooke’s ways of Discovery. A Baconian legacy

Alexandru Liciu (University of Bucharest)

Robert Hooke intended to raise a natural-philosophical superstructure on natural histories. His Present State of Natural Philosophy deals largely with the sort of philosophical history that would be needed for such a project. Giving several examples of provisional natural histories, Hooke starts with the claim that, at first, these do not need to be especially lucifereous (Hooke, Present State…, 21), a term that refers to Francis Bacon’s experiments oriented rather towards the formulation of axioms than to practical results (cf. for instance OFB XI 113). However, Hooke’s story changes as the natural histories become more and more complex, ending up with thirty-six instances of lucifereous  material, i.e. the “ways of Discovery”. In this presentation, I claim that Hooke’s “ways of Discovery” are drawn on Bacon’s prerogative instances. For example, Bacon’s “Monadic” and “Frontier Instance” become Hooke’s “Transitions of Nature” (experiments that deal with the “true specific” of a species). I will discuss a series of such examples. I conclude by showing that, just like Bacon’s project, Hooke’s demarche is essentially unfinished (or even unfinishable): Hooke emphasized that up to this point he spoke as a historian and not as a philosopher. The “ways of Discovery”, no matter how lucifereous, reveal causes which are not extremely different from their effects. The discovery of the innermost laws of nature is a job for the philosopher, and to this job Hooke intended to return in his second part of his Philosophical Algebra, which he never perfected.

Subtlety and Experiments of Light

Doina-Cristina Rusu (University of Groningen)

In the second book of his Novum organum (1620), Francis Bacon mentions a particular group of instances, the ‘Summoning Instances’ (also called Evoking Instances; Instantias Citantes, Instantias Evocantes in Latin) which reduce non-sensible to sensible. Two kinds of such instances are emphasised by Bacon – those in which the object is incapable of making an impression upon the senses, and those in which the size of the object will not let the impression be carried to the sense. Any investigation into air, spirits, and suchlike entities qualifies as a summoning instance because these things are fine and subtle, so that they cannot be seen or felt. In this paper, I will focus on Bacon’s methodology of reducing the subtle activity of pneumatic matter to its visible effects.

Jean-Baptiste Du Hamel on Induction

Hanna Szabelska (Jagiellonian University)

One of somewhat neglected figures that deserve close reading is Jean-Baptiste Du Hamel (1624–1706), theologian and natural philosopher, the first secretary of the Academie Royale des Sciences. As Peter Anstey and Dmitri Levitin point out, a detailed study of du Hamel is still a desideratum (cf. G. Piaia, “The histories of philosophy in France in the age of Descartes”, in Models of the History of Philosophy, vol. 2 [2011], p. 21-29; D. Levitin, “Early Modern Experimental Philosophy: A Non-Anglocentric Overview,” in Experiment, Speculation and Religion in Early Modern Philosophy, p. 272.). Particularly interesting is du Hamel’s theory of induction as arising from his criticism of Descartes’s concept of the laws of nature.

In his 1672 treatise De mente humana, du Hamel defines induction as part of logica experimentalis. He considers experimental knowledge about human cognition as underdeveloped in comparison with other branches of experimental philosophy, e.g. concerning plants, animals, etc, and intends to fill this gap. One of his focuses is the concept of analysis, discussed in connection with Descartes’s laws of nature. Du Hamel questions Descartes’s claim that they can be derived from God’s immutability and postulates the enhancement of analysis by induction: “Quae [analysis] cum in Mathematicis sit fructuosissima, ad Physicam etiam transferri utiliter potest, dummodo inductione ipsa roboretur.” In Chapter VII about induction in general, du Hamel appeals to the famous Baconian distinction between experimenta lucida and fructifera. Unlike Robert Boyle, who flattens out the difference between the two (“there are few frućtiferous experiments, which may not readily become luciferous to the attentive conſiderer of them.”), du Hamel deepens it by nuancing the types of experiments (e.g. phenomena exposed to the eyes should be preferred to unusual and rare ones): ” But the biggest difference between a philosopher and a mechanical artificer is that while the former searches most of all for the light of truth, the latter – for the practical application of [his] work. Naturally, he conducts experiments for no other reason than that they serve a specific work. But a philosopher does not usually conduct profitable experiments but lucid experiments that are less deceptive and especially contribute to inventing the causes of things. As soon as causes are discovered, new arts and, above all, many benefits are derived from them.” Strikingly similar wording is to be found in du Hamel’s Regiae scientiarum Academiae historia ([Parisiis, 1701], p. 12) with the difference that it is not a philosopher, but the Academy that conducts lucid experiments. This slightly undermines Levitin’s point that “that Gassendi’s anti-Aristotelian experimentalist discourse and practice probably inspired them [early academicians] more than Bacon’s.” The aim of this proposal is to discuss du Hamel’s concept of induction (English translation of Chapter VII: u5-E4C-6Xhcq7Ql0/edit# ) and to analyse the role played by baconianism in the French Academy on his account.

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