Alkahest and Fire: Debating Matter, Chymistry, and Natural History at the Early Parisian Academy of Sciences

  • Victor D. Boantza
Part of the Studies in History and Philosophy of Science book series (AUST, volume 25)


Samuel Cottereau Duclos (1598–1685) established the chymical research program at the newly inaugurated Parisian Academy of Sciences (est. 1666). While in the years following his election Duclos enjoyed an unmatched level of activity and influence among academicians, during the 1670s, his institutional status and authority had dwindled considerably. The origins of this decline are examined in light of Duclos’ preference of solution chymistry over traditional distillation analysis, highlighted by his research into alkahest. The assessment reveals metaphysical contentions within the Academy concerning the nature of matter and the scope chymical analysis. A crucial turning point in these disputes is signaled by Duclos’ ­confrontation with Denis Dodart, defender of distillation, over the direction of the ‘Natural History of Plants’ project. In epistemological and philosophical contexts, an examination of the debate illustrates the interplay between conflicting perceptions employed in negotiating distinctions such as physical/chymical and organic/mechanic. The different approaches to plants’ constitution, or ‘inner’ natures, depict the interrelationship between empiricism and natural history.


Natural History Sulfurous Salt Natural Mixts Early Modern Period Plant Project 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Victor D. Boantza
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of HistoryMcGill UniversityMontrealCanada

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