History of Artificial Cold, Scientific, Technological and Cultural Issues

Volume 299 of the series Boston Studies in the Philosophy and History of Science pp 21-51


Early Modern History of Cold: Robert Boyle and the Emergence of a New Experimental Field in Seventeenth Century Experimental Philosophy

  • Christiana ChristopoulouAffiliated withGreek Society for the Study and Promotion of History of Science and Technology Email author 

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During the seventeenth century the emerging experimental activities focused, among other categories of knowledge, on the examination of the quality of cold. The interest in cold was closely connected to the new corpuscular theories on matter and the criticism towards Aristotelian and scholastic theory of matter. Three major series of experiments on cold were led by Robert Boyle (1627–1691), the Irish experimental philosopher, and similar experiments took place in two important institutions of that period: the Royal Society of London and the Florentine Accademia Del Cimento (During the period between its formation in 1660 and 1694, the members of the Royal Society conducted an important experimental activity on cold. The society’s experimental practice on cold is recorded in the society’s minutes as well as in a large number of its members’ essays and letters. The Accademia Del Cimento was founded by Prince Leopold de Medici in the Florentine court in 1657 and was active until 1667. The experimental practice of its members, as well as that referring to cold is presented in the published treatise of the academy Saggi (Accademia Del Cimento. Essayes of natural experiments made in the Academie del Cimento. Johnson Reprint Corporation, New York/London, 1964 (first edition 1684)). In this paper I focus on Boyle’s experiments on cold in order to show his contribution in the development of a new experimental field in natural philosophy (This paper is based on part of my PhD thesis (Christopoulou C, Experimental philosophy – 17th century: the case of Robert Boyle and his experiments on cold. PhD dissertation, Department of Philosophy and History of Science, University of Athens, 2008) There I focus on Boyle’s experimental practice on cold and present a comparative study between his experimental examination of cold and that of the Royal Society of London and the Florentine Accademia Del Cimento). I will firstly describe the historical context surrounding Boyle’s experimental practice and focus on presenting the various theoretical schemata related to the quality of cold. I will then set Boyle’s experiments on cold in the context of his other experimental inquiries. In the main part of this paper, I will focus on the analysis of the basic categories of experiments on cold conducted by Boyle and their significance for the reconceptualization of the concept of cold. I will try to underline the questions Boyle sought to answer, the new information given by his experiments and its relation to the inquiry into the nature of cold and the concept of cold he tried to put forward.