Skip to main content

Microscopy in Early Modern Natural Philosophy

  • Living reference work entry
  • First Online:
Encyclopedia of Early Modern Philosophy and the Sciences

Introduction

Making observations of nature’s invisible parts has always been one of the strongest natural-philosophical ambitions. In Antiquity, materialist philosophers like Epicurus imagined how nature is made up of fundamental parts called atoms. In the early modern period, this ambition was fueled by the invention of an instrument, which – thought some natural philosophers – would finally reveal nature’s fundamental parts: The microscope. Of course, such parts were never found. But through their lenses, early modern naturalists instead found a variety of often surprising things never seen before: minuscule insects, plant fibers, pollen dust, animalcules, and blood cells. A whole new middling world emerged between the worlds of the invisible and the visible. Here, I will provide an overview of some of the first observations made with microscopes, the competing attitudes towards magnification, and the ways in which microscopic vision changed ideas about subvisible nature. My focus is...

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this chapter

Institutional subscriptions

References

  • [AdB] Leeuwenhoek A (1939–) Alle de brieven van Antoni van Leeuwenhoek, 19 vols. Swets & Zeitlinger, Amsterdam

    Google Scholar 

  • Bacon F (1857) The works of Francis Bacon, London

    Google Scholar 

  • Bertoloni Meli D (2011) Mechanism, experiment, disease: Marcello Malpighi and seventeenth-century anatomy. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore

    Google Scholar 

  • Corneanu S (2012) Regimens of the mind: Boyle, Locke, and the early modern cultura animi tradition. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago and London

    Google Scholar 

  • Daston L, Galison P (2010) Objectivity. Zone Books, New York

    Google Scholar 

  • Descartes R (2001) Discourse on method, optics, geometry, and meteorology. Hackett Publishing Company, Indianapolis

    Google Scholar 

  • Egmond F (2017) Eye for detail: images of plants and animals in art and science, 1500–1630. Reaktion Books, London

    Google Scholar 

  • Fournier M (1996) The fabric of life: microscopy in the seventeenth century. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore

    Google Scholar 

  • Freedberg D (2003) The eye of the Lynx: Galileo, his friends, and the beginnings of modern natural history. University of Chicago Press, Chicago

    Google Scholar 

  • Galilei G (1623) Il Saggiatore. Giacomo Mascardi, Rome

    Google Scholar 

  • Grew N (1682) The anatomy of plants: with an idea of a philosophical history of plants. And several other lectures, read before the Royal Society. W. Rawlins, London

    Google Scholar 

  • Hacking I (1983) Microscopes. In: Representing and intervening. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 186–209

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  • Highmore N (1651) The history of generation. Examining the several opinions of divers authors, especially that of Sir Kenelm Digby. John Martin, London

    Google Scholar 

  • Hooke R (1665) Micrographia: or, some physiological descriptions of minute bodies made by magnifying glasses, with observations and inquiries thereupon. John Martyn and James Allestry, London

    Google Scholar 

  • Hooke R (1726) Dr. Hook’s discourse concerning telescopes and microscopes; with a short account of their inventors, read in February 1691-2. In: Philosophical experiments and observations of the late eminent Dr. Robert Hooke, S. R. S. and Geom. Prof. Gresh. And other eminent virtuoso’s in his time. W. Derham, F. R. S., London, pp 257–268

    Google Scholar 

  • Jorink E (2010) Reading the book of nature in the Dutch Golden age, 1575–1715. Brill, Leiden

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Jorink E (2018) Insects, philosophy and the microscope. In: Curry HA, Jardine N, Secord JA, Spary EC (eds) Worlds of natural history. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 131–148

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  • Lawson I (2016) Crafting the microworld: how Robert Hooke constructed knowledge about small things. Notes Rec R Soc Lond 70:23–44

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Leibniz GW (1849) Die mathematischen Schriften von G. W. Leibniz. A. Asher, Berlin

    Google Scholar 

  • Leibniz GW (1989) A new system of nature. In: Philosophical essays. Hackett Publishing, Indianapolis, pp 138–145

    Google Scholar 

  • Leibniz GW (1996) New essays on human understanding. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Locke J (1975) An essay concerning human understanding. Clarendon, Oxford

    Google Scholar 

  • Lüthy C (1996) Atomism, Lynceus, and the fate of seventeenth-century microscopy. Early Sci Med 1:1–27

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Nachtomy O (2019) Living mirrors: infinity, Unity, and life in Leibniz’s philosophy. Oxford University Press, Oxford/New York

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Neri J (2008) Between observation and image: representations of insects in Robert Hooke’s Micrographia. Art Nat Hist Illus Treatises Bot Paint 1400–1850:83–107

    Google Scholar 

  • Power H (1664) Experimental philosophy: in three books: containing new experiments microscopical, mercurial, magnetical. With some deductions, and probable hypotheses raised from them, in avouchment and illustration of the now famous atomical hypotheses. T. Roycroft, London

    Google Scholar 

  • Ratcliff MJ (2009) The quest for the invisible: microscopy in the enlightenment. Routledge, London and New York

    Google Scholar 

  • Roe SA (1981) Matter, life, and generation: eighteenth-century embryology and the Haller-Wolff debate. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge

    Google Scholar 

  • Ruestow EG (1984) Leeuwenhoek and the campaign against spontaneous generation. J Hist Biol 17:225–248

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ruestow EG (1996) The microscope in the Dutch Republic: the shaping of discovery. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge

    Google Scholar 

  • Sharrock R (1660) The history of the propagation & improvement of vegetables by the concurrence of arts and nature. A. Lichfield, Oxford

    Google Scholar 

  • Sloan PR (1976) The Buffon-Linnaeus controversy. Isis 67:356–375

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Smith JEH (2011) Divine machines: Leibniz and the sciences of life. Princeton University Press, Princeton

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Swammerdam J (1758) The book of nature, or the history of insects. C.G. Seyffert, London

    Google Scholar 

  • Terrall M (2014) Catching nature in the act: Réaumur and the practice of natural history in the eighteenth century. University of Chicago Press, Chicago

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Webster C (1967) Henry power’s experimental philosophy. Ambix 14:150–178. https://doi.org/10.1179/amb.1967.14.3.150

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Wilkins J (1648) Mathematicall Magick or, the wonders that may be performed by mechanicall geometry. Samuel Gellibrand, London

    Google Scholar 

  • Wilson C (1995) The invisible world: early modern philosophy and the invention of the microscope. Princeton University Press, Princeton

    Google Scholar 

  • Wilson C (1997) Leibniz and the animalcula. In: Stewart MA (ed) Studies in 17th century European philosophy. Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp 153–175

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Christoffer Basse Eriksen .

Editor information

Editors and Affiliations

Section Editor information

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

Copyright information

© 2020 Springer Nature Switzerland AG

About this entry

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this entry

Eriksen, C.B. (2020). Microscopy in Early Modern Natural Philosophy. In: Jalobeanu, D., Wolfe, C. (eds) Encyclopedia of Early Modern Philosophy and the Sciences. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-20791-9_151-1

Download citation

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-20791-9_151-1

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Publisher Name: Springer, Cham

  • Print ISBN: 978-3-319-20791-9

  • Online ISBN: 978-3-319-20791-9

  • eBook Packages: Springer Reference Religion and PhilosophyReference Module Humanities and Social SciencesReference Module Humanities

Publish with us

Policies and ethics