Memory and Empirical Information: Samuel Hartlib, John Beale and Robert Boyle

  • Richard Yeo
Part of the Studies in History and Philosophy of Science book series (AUST, volume 25)


Robert Boyle and John Beale had connections with Samuel Hartlib and his correspondence circle. The position of these three figures can be taken as an ‘empirical’ one in the sense that they favoured ‘particulars’ over ‘systems’. But differences emerge if we consider their attitudes towards the role of memory in Baconian natural histories. Hartlib’s call for empirical particulars coexisted with an expectation that information could be reduced and arranged to aid both memory and thinking. As one model, William Petty promoted John Pell’s reductions of mathematical knowledge. Beale’s letters to Boyle (in the 1660s) urged systematic ordering of empirical data in the service of memory and hypotheses. Although Boyle did believe that a disciplined individual memory could embody multifarious experiences, he resisted Beale’s advice. What we accept as Boyle’s ‘empirical’ attitude was not so much a distinctive commitment to gathering matters of fact – something also professed by Hartlib and Beale – but a refusal to condense and arrange material in the way they demanded. Beale’s promotion of memory ­techniques that relied on highly structured arrangements of units seems to have aggravated Boyle’s existing suspicion of premature systems.


Geometrical Algebra Empirical Information Early Writing Memory Training Individual Memory 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



Samuel Hartlib Papers, Sheffield University


British Library


Robert Boyle Papers, Royal Society of London


Royal Society papers


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Richard Yeo
    • 1
  1. 1.Centre for Public Culture and IdeasGriffith UniversityBrisbaneAustralia

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