Organising natural knowledge in the seventeenth century : the works of Robert Boyle
This thesis aims to contextualise the disorder characteristic of Boyle's works at
all stages of the compositional process, in terms of seventeenth-century
discussions about structuring knowledge. This disorder is discussed by Boyle,
his contemporaries and later scholars, but has previously been insufficiently
understood in terms of his intellectual project.
Chapter one shows that seventeenth-century models present correct ordering as
determining the epistemological status of information. In particular, it is
understood as the means of moving from 'historical' collections of factual data
(including experimental results) to 'philosophical' knowledge. Disorderly works
are inevitable in the intermediate stages of a progress from piecemeal,
preparatory, probable natural history to natural philosophy.
Chapter two opens my exploration of the material processes of Boyle's
knowledge creation, by examining Boyle's manuscripts for evidence of his
aspirations to and achievement of the systematic redistribution of factual data.
His methods are contextualised via the stipulations of the commonplace
method, and the practices of his contemporaries.
Chapter three investigates the structures of Boyle'S published works
(particularly his collections of essays), exploring his development of printed
modes which resist characterisation as stable and complete. Boyle's piecemeal
publications are situated in relation to those of his contemporaries, and
especially the early Philosophical Transactions.
Chapter four considers Boyle's prefatory representation of the disorder of his
works in print, which emphasises the apparent failure of his work to conform to
literary and philosophical expectations. Boyle presents his literary failings as
rhetorically appropriate, however, given his subject matter and audience.
The disorder of Boyle's works has been criticised from his own time on. Reevaluating
their distinctive fragmentation in the light of the seventeenth-century
understanding of the significance of the organisation of natural knowledge, my
thesis suggests that their arrangement reflects, and constitutes, their intellectual
scope. In their provisional forms, Boyle's experimental texts embody the
intermediate epistemological status of their content