Book Thoughts: Leviathan and the Air-Pump

The cover of the 2011 second edition.

A couple months ago I had the pleasure of reading the classic history of science text by Steve Shapin and Simon Schaffer, Leviathan and the Air-Pump: Hobbes, Boyle, and the Experimental Life. It examines a dispute in the 1600s between Robert Boyle – “the father of modern chemistry” – and Thomas Hobbes, the philosopher known for his social contract theory as well as writing the famous phrase, that life outside civilization is “nasty, brutish, and short.” Hobbes is not known for his natural philosophy, but as Shapin and Schaffer show, he was an important figure in shaping the object of their study: how did something we take for granted – experiment – come to be a legitimate, and dominant, method of generating knowledge?

Note: Boyle’s birthday was last week and Whewell’s Ghost has collected some posts about this important scientist, or more properly, natural philosopher and chemist.

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