Jeff Kochan

Published On


Page Range

pp. 283-346

Print Length

63 pages

Chapter Six - Mathematics, Experiment, and the Ends of Scientific Practice

  • Jeff Kochan (author)
In Chapter Six, the emergence of early-modern experimental Philosophy is discussed, especially in the work of Robert Boyle. Kochan challenges SSK practitioner Steven Shapin’s attempt to insulate Boyle from mathematical culture, arguing that Boyle was a mathematical philosopher in Heidegger’s sense. The chapter begins with a review of Heidegger’s claim that Newton’s First Law formalised Galileo’s mathematical conception of the thingness of things. This conception provided the blueprint for what Kochan calls the Galilean First Thing. He argues that, for Heidegger, the First Thing provided a condition of possibility for the early-modern experiment. This point is developed through a discussion of early-modern artisanal culture, focussing on the uniform manufacture of purified metals. These metallurgical manipulations, he suggests, may have encouraged experimenters’ metaphysical conception of the thing as a uniform and purified First Thing. Hence, it is proposed that the end of early-modern experimental practice was to release the thing from environmental interference and let it be what it, essentially, is – the First Thing. The First Thing was thus the final cause towards which things are naturally disposed, and towards which experimental practice seeks to direct them. Kochan finds support for these claims in Steven Shapin and Simon Schaffer’s discussion of Boyle’s dispute with Francis Line. He shows that Boyle’s response to Line can be explained by attributing to Boyle a tacit commitment to the concept of the First Thing. Furthermore, it is argued that while Boyle experienced nature in terms of this single blueprint, Line’s experience was less unified. This supports Heidegger’s claim that the early-modern period saw experience increasingly consolidated under a single ‘world picture.’ The chapter concludes by comparing this claim with Bloor’s observation that scientific knowledge is governed by “social imagery,” that is, by images of society conceived as a unified whole.


Jeff Kochan