Robert Boyle on Knowledge of Nature in the Afterlife

  • M. J. Osler
Part of the International Archives of the History of Ideas / Archives Internationales d’Histoire des Idées book series (ARCH, volume 175)


Millenarianism and seventeenth-century natural philosophy have often been linked through the political and theological agendas of the Puritan revolutionaries.2 James R. Jacob, for example, interpreted many of Robert Boyle’s (1627–1691) writings as a reaction against the political agenda of the religious radicals of his time.3 Malcolm Oster has recently argued that Boyle did not share the millennial ideas of the Hartlib circle and that “the temper of Boyle’s understanding of knowledge, opinion and belief pointed towards a different vision in which Christianized atomism and the advancement of learning provided the appropriate historical ciphers for his religious eschatology.”4 The precise characterization of that eschatology is my concern in this paper. I shall approach this issue by considering Boyle’s views on the knowledge of nature in the afterlife.


Absolute Power Present World Divine Power Mechanical Philosophy Biblical Criticism 
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  1. 1.
    An Annual Fellowship from the Calgary Institute for the Humanities provided the time to do the research and writing of this paper. Material support was provided by a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. I am grateful to J.J. MacIntosh for guidance and to Jan W. Wojcik and Margaret G. Cook who generously shared their knowledge of Boyle’s texts. Margaret Cook made helpful comments on earlier versions of this paper.Google Scholar
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    The most comprehensive study of Boyle’s views on the limits of knowledge is Jan W. Wojcik, Robert Boyle and the Limits of Reason (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997 ). I am deeply indebted to Wojcik’s account in what follows.Google Scholar
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    Richard Baxter wrote about the enlargement of our intellectual faculties in heaven. God “advanceth our sense, and enlargeth our capacity… and fills up with himself all that capacity.” Richard Baxter, The Saints’ Everlasting Rest (London, 1649 ), 29, as quoted by Colleen McDannell and Bernhard Lang, Heaven: A History ( New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1988 ), 175.Google Scholar
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    Thomas Burnet, The Sacred Theory of the Earth: Containing an Account of the Original of the Earth, and of all the General Changes Which it hath already undergone, or is to undergo Till the Consummation of all things, 2nd ed. (London, 1690 and 1691); reprint ed. Basil Willey (Carbondale, Illinois: Southern Illinois University Press, 1965 ), 322.Google Scholar
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    Boyle, The Second Part of the Christian Virtuoso, in Works,6:789. Here Boyle’s language echoes Isaiah 65:17: “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind.” Although Boyle did not cite this particular passage in a gloss, he did cite Isaiah 65:2 in connection with the Apocalypse. See Boyle, Excellency of Theology,in Works,4:20–1.Google Scholar
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    The inference of immortality from immateriality was an argument frequently used to prove the immortality of the soul. See Osier, Divine Will and the Mechanical Philosophy, 71–5. On the “simplicity” argument for the immortality of the soul, see Ben Lazare Mijuskovic, The Achilles of Rationalist Arguments: The Simplicity, Unity, and Identity of Thought and Soul from the Cambridge Platonists to Kant. A Study in the History of an Argument ( The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1974 ).Google Scholar
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • M. J. Osler
    • 1
  1. 1.The University of CalgaryCanada

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