Jessica Riskin, The Restless Clock: A History of the Centuries-Long Argument Over What Makes Living Things Tick. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2016, pp. 544, ISBN 978-0-226- 30292-8. $40.00 (hardback), https://doi.org/10.1017/S0007087417000371
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In the beginning of her big book Riskin (p. 4) states that “a contradiction sits at the origin of modern science.” According to the defining principle of the mechanistic conception of science, scientific explanation must not appeal to agency or will. Moreover, on the mechanistic approach the banishment of agency is definitive of the scientific enterprise: “The ban on agency seems as close to the heart of what science is as any scientific rule or principle. To violate it seems tantamount to lapsing out of science into mysticism.” In other words, within the dialectic of Riskin’s book, if it turns out that the banishment of agency is unjustified, then either mechanists must conclude that there is no clear demarcation of science from theology and mysticism, or they must accept that agency is indeed a part of the natural world.
The contradiction Riskin has in mind arises because when “the inventors of modern science” (Cartesians, Newtonians, Robert Boyle and his followers) banned agency...