John Locke and Natural Philosophy

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Overview

Peter Anstey presents a thorough and innovative study of John Locke's views on the method and content of natural philosophy. Focusing on Locke's Essay concerning Human Understanding, but also drawing extensively from his other writings and manuscript remains, Anstey argues that Locke was an advocate of the Experimental Philosophy: the new approach to natural philosophy championed by Robert Boyle and the early Royal Society who were opposed to speculative philosophy.
On the question of method, Anstey shows how Locke's pessimism about the prospects for a demonstrative science of nature led him, in the Essay, to promote Francis Bacon's method of natural history, and to downplay the value of hypotheses and analogical reasoning in science. But, according to Anstey, Locke never abandoned the ideal of a demonstrative natural philosophy, for he believed that if we could discover the primary qualities of the tiny corpuscles that constitute material bodies, we could then establish a kind of corpuscular metric that would allow us a genuine science of nature. It was only after the publication of the Essay, however, that Locke came to realize that Newton's Principia provided a model for the role of demonstrative reasoning in science based on principles established upon observation, and this led him to make significant revisions to his views in the 1690s.
On the content of Locke's natural philosophy, it is argued that even though Locke adhered to the Experimental Philosophy, he was not averse to speculation about the corpuscular nature of matter. Anstey takes us into new terrain and new interpretations of Locke's thought in his explorations of his mercurialist transmutational chymistry, his theory of generation by seminal principles, and his conventionalism about species.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Aan excellent book on Locke and natural philosophy. [Anstey] integrates deep archival research and a broad knowledge of the time and place with good judgment and sharp insight. His accounts of Locke's relations to Bacon and Boyle, of Locke's interests in biology, medicine, and chemistry, and of Locke's views on natural history and hypotheses are the fullest and best that I know."—Michael Jacovides, Metascience
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780199589777
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 5/19/2011
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Peter R. Anstey studied analytic philosophy and the history of philosophy at the University of Sydney. He later took up a U2000 postdoctoral fellowship at Sydney and then a lectureship. In 2006 he moved to Dunedin in New Zealand where he is the inaugural Professor of Early Modern Philosophy in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Otago. His research focuses on early modern philosophy with special reference to the writings of John Locke and Robert Boyle. He is the author of The Philosophy of Robert Boyle (Routledge, 2000).

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Table of Contents

Introduction
1. Natural Philosophy and the Aims of the Essay
2. Corpuscular Pessimism
3. Natural History
4. Hypotheses and Analogy
5. Vortices, the Deluge and Cohesion
6. Mathematics
7. Demonstration
8. Explanation
9. Latrochemistry
10. Generation
11. Species
Conclusion
List of manuscripts
Bibliography
Index

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