Course: The philosophy of experiment from Bacon to Newton

Wednesday 10-14, Room Constantin Noicavonguericke2-1

This course aims to offer an overview of the emergence, in the seventeenth century, of a new philosophy of (scientific) experimentation. Our discussions will focus on experiments and observations, experimental recordings, as well as methodological, epistemological and metaphysical considerations regarding the meaning, nature, functions and purposes of experimentation.

This is a problem based, “hands-on” course. We will read and discuss texts, imagine and attempt to recreate experiments. Students will be required to imagine themselves as taking active part in seventeenth century conversations, controversies and debates. Writing assignments (see below) will reflect this purpose: students will be required to imagine themselves as actors in a debate and write accordingly (letters to Galileo, memos of a philosophical conversations, an update status of a scientific society etc.)

1. (October 4) Experiment and (scientific) reasoning in the Aristotelian tradition and beyond. An overview of the traditional roles of experimentation (illustrative, pedagogical, rhetorical, investigative). Discussion of some major concepts (scientia, experientia, experimentum etc.)kircher-sunflower

2. (October 11) Experiments and experimental groups in the first part of the seventeenth century (who was making experiments and why? Real experiments and imaginary experiments, experiments and the first societies). Readings: Thomas Sprat, History of the Royal Society (Book II, fragments – see pages in the drop-box), Francis Bacon, New Atlantis (description of the Solomon’s House “laboratories” see fragments in the drop-box).

2. (October 19) Taming the tradition of natural magic: Experiments in Francis Bacon and Giovan Battista della Porta. (The discussion will cover topics such as: wonders, secrets and scientia. Science and the categories of the “un-natural” (monsters, fabulous stories, preternatural events, supernatural events, impossible objects).)  But we will mainly look into the purpose of devising and performing complex experiments. Readings:Francis Bacon, Sylva Sylvarum, Century I, exp 14-16, (see a translation here). Della Porta, Natural magick, Book I, 1-6, and Book XVIII, 1-8, (you can use this resource) Francis Bacon, Sylva Sylvarum, IV, exp 352, Century IV, 301-351 (see here for a translation).porta-separation

Supplementary readings: Dana Jalobeanu, Bacon’s apples: a case study in Baconian experimentation, în G.Gilioni et. all., Francis Bacon on Motion and Power, Springer 2016, Peter Dear, Miracles, experiments and the laws of nature, ISIS, 1990.

3. (November 2) Scientific observation and the construction of phenomena. The case of Galileo’s telescopic observations. Readings: Galileo, Sidereus nunciusjupiter-observations

Supplementary readings: Gingerich, van Helden, From occhiale to the printed page: the making of Sidereus Nuncius, Journal of the History of Astronomy, 35 (3003).

4. (November 9) The role of experimentation in illustrating a theory, demonstration, teaching and persuasion. Readings: Galileo, Dialogue, Day I.

Supplementary readings: Jardine, Demonstration, dialectic and Rhetoric in Galileo’s Dialogue, in Kelley, Popkin, The Shapes of Knowledge, Kluwer, 1991.

5. (November 16) Francis Bacon and the art of experimenting. Experientia literata. Readings: Bacon, De Augmentis Scientiarum (SEH vol. IV, book V), Bacon, Sylva Sylvarum, Centuria IV, 301-351

Supplementary readings: Dana Jalobeanu, Disciplining experience, în Perspectives on Science (2016); Laura Georgescu, A new form of knowledge: experientia literata, în Society and Politics (2012)

6. (November 23) Axioms and inductive generalizations. Francis Bacon and the interpretation of nature. Readings: Parasceve, Novum Organum Book II, (OFB XI 201-237)

7. (December 7) Experiments and baconian experimentation in the Royal Society. New roles for the(scientific) experiments? Readings: Birch, History of the Royal Society (fragments), Sprat, History of the Royal Society book II fragments (see readings in the drop-box)

8. (December 14) Experiments and hypotheses in the Royal Society: Cartesian versus Baconian methodologies? (the Newton-Hooke debate, see readings in the drop-box)

9. (January 11) Experimental philosophy and speculative philosophy. Two historiographic categories. Readings: P. Anstey, Speculative or experimental philosophy, in Anstey (2004), The Science of Nature, M. Feingold, Experimental philosophy (2015)

10. (January 18) Newton’s methodology: what role for experiments?

Written assignments:chemical-laboratory

Individual assignments:

  1. (November 2) Write a response to Galileo’ Sidereus nuncius. Imagine you are a colleague working on the same field (what is the field of SN? what discipline? is the book getting outside of the disciplinary boundaries? in which direction?). For an enthusiastic reply, see Kepler’s response (in the drop-box). For a critical reply see Clavius’ response (also in the drop-box)
  2. (November 9) Imagine you are Simplicio. Write a memo of the first day of Galieo’s Dialogue (for a background to the dialogue and its teaching aspects see Jardine 1991, Raphael 1993)

Group assignments: (in groups of 2)

  1. (December 7) Write an amended status of the Royal Society or a chart for a new society for the production of knowledge.
  2. (December 11) Write a letter in continuation of Newton-Hooke debate over the role of hypotheses (see the correspondence in the drop-box)