Syllabus [SciRev Fall 2008]

For the Week of 10/29/08

Assignment 9


Descartes and Boyle



Both of these diagrams are depictions of the Cartesian vortices that cause ortital motion in the plenum. 

To have any idea of what this means, read below.  See also the Fontenelle image below. 

It is a bit more explicit, but perhaps a bit more fanciful as well.

For Wed.

Read pp. 87-92, 100-105, and 109-111 – Sections on and by Descartes (1596-1650) and a short thing on Boyle: Descartes-From_Matthews-2.9MB.pdf.  ca. 13pp


Read this short selection on and from Descartes: Descartes-From_Burke-1.6MB.pdf. ca. 6pp


Read pp. 5-7 from Descartes’ Treatise on Light: Descartes_CH13-4OnLight-332.KB.pdf  Read the first 5 pages too if you want more information or for use in a souped up essay. 2pp


Read pp. 46-60 of Sabra_Ch2-Theories_of_Light-3.5MB.pdf. Read the other parts if you wish and/or want some souped up materials. 14pp


For Thurs.

Read this article by Steven Shapin, "Pump and Circumstance: Robert Boyle's Literary Technology."  Shapin_PumpAndCircumstance-3.9MB.pdf


Read this thing by Jardin: Jardin_Ingenious-HookeBoyle-2.2MB.pdf.


Read pp. 1-18 of the Westfall book we bought for class: The Live of Isaac Newton.


Write an essay on some Cartesian or Boylian topic.  I put some articles of interest below for a souped up version. 

          Feel free to compare ideas with other things we have read in the past couple of months and to speculate on the present and your experiences.  Theory acquisition in general is quite interesting.  As you have seen, there wasn’t incontrovertible proof for a heliocentric cosmos nor was there much proof for atoms, and yet people started to believe in them.  People believe Einstein’s relativity theories, they believe Darwin, they believe in quantum mechanics.  Why?  On what proof? 


Ideas: Think about the implications of mechanistic rather than metaphysical nature.  Figure out his theory of light.  Would his light move faster or slower through a dense medium?  Are his parts of matter flexible or are they totally rigid?  How does he construct his arguments?  Is he more like Harvey or more like Galileo?  How important is logic? How important is observation?  How important is rhetoric?  Vortices and the cosmos.  Why are vortices necessary?  Why not just independent collisions and rebounds?  Types of matter… globules again,… continuous vs. discrete….  “salt, sulfur, mercury”  Expensive machines, Observation vs. vexing nature , Literature as stand-in for eye-witness , Pictures as stand-in for eye-witness, [Philosophically, how does this compare to photographs or video… especially with Photoshop…] How does reporting failed experiments make the successful ones more credible? Is it unbiased and innocent or just more rhetorical trickery? What weighs more a pound of lead, of feathers, or of air? What does Boyle mean by the word “vacuum”? Hobbes made a flatulence joke? Purpose of popularization.


Citations to the assigned readings and to other materials for a souped up essay.


Armitage, Angus. "Rene Descartes (1596-1650) and the Early Royal Society." Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London 8, no. 1 (1950): 1-19. Armitage-Descartes_Royal_Society-1.8MB.pdf  Nice overview.


Boyle, Robert. "Chapter 6: Boyle." In The Scientific Background to Modern Philosophy : Selected Readings, ed. Michael R. Matthews, pp. 109-123. Indianapolis: Hackett Pub., 1989. Descartes-From_Matthews-2.9MB.pdf.


Burke, John G., ed. Sections from Descartes’ Writings. Science & Culture in the Western Tradition: Sources and Interpretations. Scottsdale, Ariz.: Gorsuch Scarisbrick, 1987. 


Clarke, Angus G. "Metoposcopy: An Art to Find the Mind's Construction in the Forehead." In Astrology, Science, and Society: Historical Essays, ed. Patrick Curry, 171-196. Wolfeboro, N.H.: Boydell Press, 1987. Clarke-Metoposcopy-Mind_in_Forehead-Curry,ed.-5MB.pdf


Curley, E. M. "Locke, Boyle, and the Distinction between Primary and Secondary Qualities." The Philosophical Review 81, no. 4 (1972): pp. 438-464. Curley_LockeBoylePrimarySecondary-672MB.pdf


Descartes, Rene. The World, or Treatise on Light. Translated by Michael S. Mahoney. Excerpts extracted for SciRev., Written 1629-33, published later in 17th c.


Dewhurst, Kenneth. "Locke's Contribution to Boyle's Researches on the Air and on Human Blood." Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London 17, no. 2 (1962): pp. 198-206. Dewhurst_LockeContributionBoyleBloodResearch-888KB.pdf


Gorham, Geoffrey. "Mind-Body Dualism and the Harvey-Descartes Controversy." Journal of the History of Ideas 55, no. 2 (1994): 211-234. Gorham_Mind-BodyHarvey-Descartes-796KB.pdf

                        Though Descartes agreed with Harvey's theory of circulation, he differed with him on the mechanical explanation of the heart.  Compares and contrasts Descartes's more deductive method of doing science with Harvey's more inductive method.  Descartes does not like Harvey's seemingly mysterious motion of the heart.  Felt animistic or vitalistic to him.  Descartes felt the power source was simply fire (without light) in the heart which propelled the blood and spitits.  But Descartes insists that soul motivated motions are initiated by spirits derived by the pineal gland, a vitalistic explanation.  [229]


Hobbes, Thomas, and Richard Tuck. Leviathan.  Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992. (1st ed. 1651) Available online from Books@Adelaide
2007.  Hobbes was an atomist and discusses it throughout this very famous book.  If you have any interest in government and the issues of justice and equity and sovernty and natural law and science, this is a book that you cannot ignore.


Jardine, Lisa. Ingenious Pursuits: Building the Scientific Revolution: Anchor Books, 2000. Jardin_Ingenious-HookeBoyle-2.2MB.pdf


Kargon, Robert. "Walter Charleton, Robert Boyle, and the Acceptance of Epicurean Atomism." Isis 55, no. 2 (1964): pp. 184-192. Kargon_CharletonBoyle-atomism-284KB.pdf


Loemker, Leroy E. "Boyle and Leibniz." Journal of the History of Ideas 16, no. 1 (1955): 22-43. Loemker_BoyleandLeibniz-2.6MB.pdf


Lynes, John W. "Descartes' Theory of Elements: From Le Monde to the Principes." Journal of the History of Ideas 43, no. 1 (1982): 55-72. Lynes-Descartes_Elements-2MB.pdf


McLaughlin, Peter. "Descartes on Mind-Body Interaction and the Conservation of Motion." The Philosophical Review 102, no. 2 (1993): 155-182.  McLaughlin_DecartesMindBodyMotion-2.4MB.pdf 


Meinel, Christoph. "Early Seventeenth-Century Atomism: Theory, Epistemology, and the Insufficiency of Experiment." Isis 79, no. 1 (1988): pp. 68-103. Meinel_Atomism17thC-1.8MB.pdf


Moore, Leslie. ""Instructive Trees": Swift's Broom-Stick, Boyle's Reflections, and Satiric Figuration." Eighteenth-Century Studies 19, no. 3 (1986): 313-332. Moore_SwiftsBroomStickBoyle-376KB.pdf


Renaldo, John J. "Bacon's Empiricism, Boyle's Science, and the Jesuit Response in Italy." Journal of the History of Ideas 37, no. 4 (1976): 689-695. enaldo_BaconBoyleJesuitItaly-252KB.pdf


Rogers, G. A. J. "Boyle, Locke, and Reason." Journal of the History of Ideas 27, no. 2 (1966): pp. 205-216. Rogers_BoyleLockeReason-444MB.pdf


Sabra, A. I. Theories of Light: From Descartes to Newton. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1981. Reprint, 1967 first ed.


Shapin, Steven. "Pump and Circumstance: Robert Boyle's Literary Technology." Social Studies of Science 14, no. 4 (1984): 481-520. Shapin_PumpAndCircumstance-3.9MB.pdf


Shapin, Steven, and Simon Schaffer. Leviathan and the Air-Pump; Hobbes, Boyle, and the Experimental Life. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985. check library


Wilkin, Rebecca M. "Figuring the Dead Descartes: Claude Clerselier's "Homme De Rene Descartes" (1664)." Representations, no. 83 (2003): 38-66. Nice pictures.  Wilkin-Figuring_Dead_Descartes-3.8MB.pdf

               -Two editions of Descartes's treatise on human physiology were published in the 1660s, more than a decade after his death: Florent Schuyl's "Renatus Des Cartes de homine" (1662) and Claude Clerselier's "L'Homme de Rene Descartes" (1664). The principal difference between them lies in the figures that illustrate the text. Schuyl's figures undermine Descartes's optimism; his anatomical sketches foreground human mortality, while his landscapes remind the reader of the fleeting nature of time and of the inevitability of death. In contrast, Clerselier's illustrations develop Descartes's comparison of the human body to a machine, which does not live nor, as a result, die. They thus obscure the fate of the author's dead body and in turn pave the way for the resurrection of his "esprit".



Pressure and vacuum site: Looks good but I haven’t poked around much of it.

Horror Vacui?

 The discovery of the weight of air,

 and the existence of the vacuum. 

A tribute to Evangelista Torricelli





                                                                  Modern replica of Boyle’s Pump







Notice the large moon systems of Jupiter and Saturn.




Back to Syllabus [SciRev Fall 2008]


Me –

These links are dead.  I’ll fix them before the exam.

Exam Review: Ass9ReviewBoyleShapinShaffer84.pdf [740K]


Exam Review: Ass8ReviewCartesianLight.pdf [238K]


My personal favorite from Descartes:


Excerpt from part I of Descartes' Discourse On the Method of Rightly Conducting the Reason, and Seeking Truth in the Sciences 


“But I believed that I had already given sufficient time to languages, and likewise to the reading of the writings of the ancients, to their histories and fables.   For to hold converse with those of other ages and to travel, are almost the same thing.  It is useful to know something of the manners of different nations, that we may be enabled  to form a more correct judgment regarding our own, and be prevented from thinking that everything contrary to our customs is ridiculous and irrational, a conclusion usually come to by those whose experience has been limited to their own country.  On the other hand, when too much time is occupied in traveling, we become strangers to our native country; and the over curious in the customs of the past are generally ignorant of those of the present.  Besides, fictitious narratives lead us to imagine the possibility of many events that are impossible; and even the most faithful histories, if they do not wholly misrepresent matters, or exaggerate their importance to render the account of them more worthy of perusal, omit, at least, almost always the meanest and least striking of the attendant circumstances; hence it happens that the remainder does not represent the truth, and that such as regulate their conduct by examples drawn from this source, are apt to fall into the extravagances of the knight-errants of romance, and to entertain projects that exceed their powers.”


Newsie stuff:


Chang–“From a Strip of Scotch Tape, X-Rays” [NY Times, Oct. 23, 2008]

Nuclear fusion from X-mas wrapping X-rays?


Review Materials:









[there may be more in this than you really want.]


Also, don’t forget to look over the Sabra, Descartes, and the Jardin readings.


Posted: 12/6/08 4:40 PM