PROFESSOR JUSTIN SMITH (JUSTISMI@ALCOR.CONCORDIA.CA)
DEPARTMENT OF PHILOSOPHY, CONCORDIA UNIVERSITY
AUTUMN, 2009, CONCORDIA UNIVERSITY
W 17:45-20:15 SGW
With guest appearances from:
• Victor Boantza, Department of History, McGill University
• Andrea Falcon, Department of Philosophy, Concordia University
• Vera Keller, Department of English, McGill University
• Ted McCormick, Department of History, Concordia University
The natural philosophy of the 17th century is marked by a widespread effort to redescribe natural change exhaustively in terms of the size, shape, and motion of subvisible particles or corpuscles. This endeavor has long been held to have constituted a wholesale rejection of premodern theories of natural change, which relied upon a metaphysics of matter and form being guided through change in accordance with their natural ends or teleology.
But early modern natural philosophy has its prehistory, too, and part of this takes us back to some rather unlikely sources. In this seminar, we will consider the roots of modern natural philosophy in the tradition of what Bill Newman, reviving a lapsed actor’s category, has called ‘chymistry’, which is to say the practical and theoretical investigation of the nature of mixtures and compositions. In passing, we will also touch upon a number of related subjects, such as the nature of ‘the occult’, the conceptual problems of perpetual motion and magnetism, and the epistemological issues arising within the new experimental philosophy of the early modern period. We will be adopting a rigorous historical and contextualist approach to the philosophical questions arising from our chosen topic, and so will also have occasion, in an interdisciplinary spirit, to consider the social, economic, and technological forces at play in the chapter of natural philosophy we have undertaken to study.