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Leviathan and the Air-Pump

Leviathan and the Air-Pump: Hobbes, Boyle, and the Experimental Life

Copyright Date: 1985
Pages: 440
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  • Book Info
    Leviathan and the Air-Pump
    Book Description:

    Leviathan and the Air-Pumpexamines the conflicts over the value and propriety of experimental methods between two major seventeenth-century thinkers: Thomas Hobbes, author of the political treatise Leviathan and vehement critic of systematic experimentation in natural philosophy, and Robert Boyle, mechanical philosopher and owner of the newly invented air-pump. The issues at stake in their disputes ranged from the physical integrity of the air-pump to the intellectual integrity of the knowledge it might yield. Both Boyle and Hobbes were looking for ways of establishing knowledge that did not decay into ad hominem attacks and political division. Boyle proposed the experiment as cure. He argued that facts should be manufactured by machines like the air-pump so that gentlemen could witness the experiments and produce knowledge that everyone agreed on. Hobbes, by contrast, looked for natural law and viewed experiments as the artificial, unreliable products of an exclusive guild.

    The new approaches taken inLeviathan and the Air-Pumphave been enormously influential on historical studies of science. Shapin and Schaffer found a moment of scientific revolution and showed how key scientific givens--facts, interpretations, experiment, truth--were fundamental to a new political order. Shapin and Schaffer were also innovative in their ethnographic approach. Attempting to understand the work habits, rituals, and social structures of a remote, unfamiliar group, they argued that politics were tied up in what scientists did, rather than what they said. Steven Shapin and Simon Schaffer use the confrontation between Hobbes and Boyle as a way of understanding what was at stake in the early history of scientific experimentation. They describe the protagonists' divergent views of natural knowledge, and situate the Hobbes-Boyle disputes within contemporary debates over the role of intellectuals in public life and the problems of social order and assent in Restoration England. In a new introduction, the authors describe how science and its social context were understood when this book was first published, and how the study of the history of science has changed since then.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3849-3
    Subjects: History of Science & Technology, General Science, Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. INTRODUCTION TO THE 2011 EDITION Up for Air: Leviathan and the Air-Pump a Generation On
    (pp. xi-l)

    There are two technologies especially relevant to this new edition ofLeviathan and the Air-Pump. The first one is obvious: the air-pump. Its physical operation and its role in making seventeenth-century scientific knowledge were this book’s stated subjects. It has been said that what distinguished this way of telling a historical story about science is that its “real hero” was not a person but an instrument.¹ The second technology is not so obvious, nor was it obvious to the authors when they wrote the book over a quarter century ago. Just as the air-pump was a device for making scientific...

    (pp. li-lii)
  3. I Understanding Experiment
    (pp. 3-21)

    Our subject is experiment. We want to understand the nature and status of experimental practices and their intellectual products. These are the questions to which we seek answers: What is an experiment? How is an experiment performed? What are the means by which experiments can be said to produce matters of fact, and what is the relationship between experimental facts and explanatory constructs? How is a successful experiment identified, and how is success distinguished from experimental failure? Behind this series of particular questions lie more general ones:Whydoes one do experiments in order to arrive at scientific truth? Is...

  4. II Seeing and Believing: The Experimental Production of Pneumatic Facts
    (pp. 22-79)

    Robert Boyle maintained that proper natural philosophical knowledge should be generated through experiment and that the foundations of such knowledge were to be constituted by experimentally produced matters of fact. Thomas Hobbes disagreed. In Hobbes’s view Boyle’s procedures could never yield the degree of certainty requisite in any enterprise worthy of being called philosophical. This book is about that dispute and about the issues that were seen to depend upon its resolution.

    Hobbes’s position has the historical appeal of the exotic. How was it possible for any rational man to deny the value of experiment and the foundational status of...

  5. III Seeing Double: Hobbes’s Politics of Plenism before 1660
    (pp. 80-109)

    Boyle’s programme for experimental philosophy was a solution to the problem of order. Natural philosophy had been in a state of scandalous dissension. Nowhere was scandal more visible than in the handling of the Torricellian phenomenon and related effects. Boyle attempted to remedy this dissension by proposing a new way of going on in natural philosophy: a new way of working, of speaking, of forming social relations among natural philosophers. To Boyle and his colleagues the experimental solution to the problem of order was possible, effective, and safe. Its practicality, potency, and innocuousness were dependent upon the erection and maintenance...

  6. IV The Trouble with Experiment: Hobbes Versus Boyle
    (pp. 110-154)

    Robert Boyle’sNew Experiments Physico-Mechanicalwas published in the summer of 1660. Following the Restoration of the King in May 1660 and the gathering of “many Worthy Men” in London during the summer of that year, the Royal Society received a formal constitution at Gresham College in November 1660.¹ Hobbes was now faced, not with experiment merely as a useful adjunct to the pursuit of natural philosophy, but with a fully developed experimental programme for natural philosophy. Publications on trials of the air-pump and on other related experiments were shortly to come from Henry Power, Robert Hooke, John Wallis, and,...

  7. V Boyle’s Adversaries: Experiment Defended
    (pp. 155-224)

    Who were Boyle’s adversaries? This appears to be a straightforward question. Within three years of the publication of theNew ExperimentsBoyle was confronted with critical replies on three main fronts. 1661 saw the appearance not only of Hobbes’sDialogus physicusbut also of a hostile treatise by the Jesuit Franciscus Linus entitledTractatus de corporum inseparabilitate. In the following year the Cambridge Platonist Henry More joined the attack with remarks in the third edition of hisAntidote against Atheism, amplified in a number of tracts over the next fifteen years.

    Boyle replied to each of these critics, but he...

  8. VI Replication and Its Troubles: Air-Pumps in the 1660s
    (pp. 225-282)

    In previous chapters we established that the matter of fact was the fundamental category with which experimental philosophers proposed to solve the problems of order and assent. Hobbes denied that experiment could produce matters of fact that were indefeasible, and that such facts could, or ought to, form the foundations of certain knowledge. One of the tactics Hobbes used to make his case was the display of theworkrequired to make a fact. When this work was publicly identified, it could be used to explode any such fact. In principle Hobbes’s argument is correct. Establishing matters of fact did...

  9. VII Natural Philosophy and the Restoration: Interests in Dispute
    (pp. 283-331)

    Hobbes and Boyle used the work of the 1640s and 1650s to give rival accounts of the right way to conduct natural philosophy. We have examined the way in which the experimental philosophers sustained Boyle’s programme against adversaries and how they dealt with trouble within their community. What hinged on the acceptance of such a programme? We now consider the issues that bore on the way Hobbes’s and Boyle’s schemes were assessed in the 1660s. This demands an outline of the political and ecclesiastical context of the Restoration. The crisis of the Restoration settlement made proposals for a means of...

  10. VIII The Polity of Science: Conclusions
    (pp. 332-344)

    Solutions to the problem of knowledge are solutions to the problem of social order. That is why the materials in this book are contributions to political history as well as to the history of science and philosophy. Hobbes and Boyle proposed radically different solutions to the question of what was to count as knowledge: which propositions were to be accounted meaningful and which absurd, which problems were soluble and which not, how various grades of certainty were to be distributed among intellectual items, where the boundaries of authentic knowledge were to be drawn. In so doing, Hobbes and Boyle delineated...