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Boyle’s Corpuscular Philosophy

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    John Dreher Philosophy 320 Robert Boyle’s Corpuscular Philosophy Robert Boyle believed that the universe (observable objects) was made up of tiny bodies called corpuscles and these tiny bodies were thought to bring about large-scale phenomena by moving around and interacting in specific ways. These corpuscles are innumerable and are of a determinate size and shape and are either in motion or at rest. According to Boyle, motion is considered the grand agent of all that happens in nature and the reason for why things occur. (Journal of History and of Philosophy, Volume 12)

    Ancient atomists failed to realize that a wise, influential being of the physical universe led them to conceive of motion as an innate property of matter. There failed realization of a supreme-being governing the physical universe led the modern atomists to believe that motion was initially unguided and random in its purpose. However, Boyle did not think that motion is neither innate or even random in its purpose, for he believed it was a God-given property of matter which operates in accordance with God-given natural rules. Journal of Philosophy , Volume 12) Boyle believed that the laws of motion are Divine prescriptions by the reference to which God rules the physical universe and while in accordance with how the phenomena of the world is fashioned. While developing the physical world, Boyle speculates that God divided universal created matter into an infinite number of minute parts that differed in shapes, sizes and determinations of motion. These parts were the basic building blocks of life (corpuscles) of which all things of made of.

    Now according to Boyle’s theory, bulk (size), figure (shape) and motion/rest (lack of motion) are the primary affection of matter. They are considered, by Boyle, primary qualities because they enable us to give a satisfactory explanation for the objects we see around us without the interference of human subjectivity. All other qualities, such as those detected by the senses are in fact secondary qualities; Boyle claims qualities like sound, heat, smell, taste, and color are not among the original or real qualities but are effects of consequences of primary affections of matter, whose perations depend upon the bodies they affect. As we know, Boyle believes that God plays a huge role as the creator and also the one who governs over the physical universe. The fact that Boyle had the idea of God in his theory signifies the one main difference between his stand on nature and the views of the ancient and modern atomistic philosophers. The following passage from Boyle’s essay “ Of Excellency and Grounds of the Mechanical Hypothesis” shows where he stands on his philosophy and how he firmly believes that God was the one who started it all. When I speak of the corpuscular or mechanical philosophy, I am far from meaning with the Epicureans, that atoms, meeting together by chance in an infinite vacuum, are able of themselves to produce the world, and all of its phenomena: nor with some modern philosophers, that supposing God to have put into the whole mass of matter such an invariable quantity of motion, he needed do no more to make the world, the material parts being able by their own unguided motions to cast themselves into such a system (as we call by that name).

    But I plead only for such a philosophy, as reaches but to things purely corporeal, and distinguishing between the first original of things, and the subsequent course of nature, teaches concerning the former not only that God gave motion to matter, but that in the beginning he so guided the various motions of the parts of it, as to contrive them into the world he designed they should compose,( furnished with the seminal principles and structures , or models of living creatures) and established those rules of motion, and that order amongst things corporeal, which we are wont call the laws nature.

    And having told this as to the former, it may be allowed as to the latter to teach, that the universe being once framed by and the laws of motion being settled and upheld by his incessant concourse and general providence, the phenomena of the world thus constituted are physically produced by the mechanical affections of the parts of the matter, and that they operate upon one another according the mechanical laws. (Selected Philosophical Papers of Robert Boyle pg 138 -139) When Boyle mentions the Epicureans and how they believe that the universe are composed of atoms, it is much like Boyle’s corpuscles but the most fundamental difference is that the Epicureans don’t believe that God is responsible for the atom. They believe that atoms where always “here” and they meet together simply by the “flip of a coin” randomly fabricating the universe. They have no reason to be; there existence is simply a lucky accident. Boyle strongly disagrees with Epicureans because how can there be a “clock” without a “craftsman. Boyle states that the Cartesian laws of motion or the epicurean causal concourse of atoms could not bring mere matter into such order that makes up everything so perfectly in such a harmonized way. Boyle refuses the idea that atoms are endowed with an essential form, which is able to explain the composition, movement, and overall behavior of the corporeal (physical) world. Boyle believes that God must have put matter into motion and put smaller systems in such an order that the big system (world/universe) would function in a uniformed manner.

    Atomism does not give an acute account of nature therefore the conception of God can be upheld in this argument. Boyle in all the confidence he has, strongly believes that his theory is much more superior than those of his competitors Boyle writes that philosophers of many sects have rejected his corpuscular principles because the objectors imagine that his explanation can be given for only a few thing and is insufficient. (About the Excellency and Grounds of the Mechanical Hypothesis, pg 139) Boyle starts off by stating that his theory of corpuscular theory is intelligible and clear.

    He mentions that the Peripatetic’s disputes are too intricate that how can one settle and start to understand them. He also starts to attack the chemist saying that they are sufficiently puzzled to give definitions and accounts of their elemental principles. Their doctrines about archeus, astral beings, gas, blas, and other notions are so convoluted that it’s difficult for one to get a grasp on it. The principles of the Artotelians and the chemist are so misleading that how can one expect clarity in explanations.

    He utters that many of the explanations given are so general and slight that people tend to just not question it and just surrender with whatever they have to say about a particular phenomenon. (The Grounds for and Excellence of the Corpuscular or Mechanical Philosophy, Jonathan Bennett page 2 and 3) Boyle describes his corpuscular philosophy to be easily understood by those who approach it and those who do tend to accept it without having to look for any additional clarification.

    Making the Robert Boyle’s entire philosophy supremely comprehensive over those whose are more trouble than they’re worth understanding. What Robert Boyle wanted to show was that there where ways of explaining the natural order of things without having to sacrifice one’s own ability to perceive and comprehend clearly. Boyle had an understanding that even though things may be complicated at first, there is always way to simplify.

    Bibliography Bennett, Jonathan. About the Excellency and Grounds of the Mechanical Hypothesis. N. p. : n. p. , March 2010. 2-3. Print. Boyle, Robert. Selected Philosohical Papers of Robert Boyle. N. p. : Hackett Pub Co Inc. , Nov 1991. 138-39. Print. Journal of History and of Philosophy, Volume 12. N. p. : John Hopkins University Press, n. d. Print. Squadrito, Kathleen M. “The Origin Of Forms and Qualities. ” 12 Jan. (1979). Print.

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