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Radical EnlightenmentPhilosophy and the Making of Modernity 1650-1750$
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Jonathan I. Israel

Print publication date: 2001

Print ISBN-13: 9780198206088

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198206088.001.0001

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Spinoza, Science, and the Scientists

Spinoza, Science, and the Scientists

(p.242) 14 Spinoza, Science, and the Scientists
Radical Enlightenment

Jonathan I. Israel

Oxford University Press

The most important and exceptional element in Spinoza's scientific thought is simply that natural philosophy, or science, is of universal applicability and that there is no reserved area beyond it. This implied a stark contrast between Spinoza's scientific rationality and that of every other leading philosopher and scientist of the age, not least Descartes. Various contemporaries attested to Spinoza's skill in preparing lenses and building microscopes and telescopes. Among those most aware of Spinoza's work with microscopes was the preeminent scientist of the Dutch Golden Age, Christian Huygens. Below the surface, the barely suppressed rivalry between Huygens and Spinoza extended far beyond lenses and microscopes. For both men, the central issue in science at the time was to revise and refine Descartes' laws of motion and mechanics. Another central strand of Spinoza's scientific thought is his critique of Boyle. Spinoza relegated observation and experiment to the secondary role of confirming or contradicting hypotheses, and it was on this ground that he was drawn into criticizing Boyle and the empiricism of the Royal Society.

Keywords:   radical thought, scientific thought, natural philosophy, Christian Huygens, Robert Boyle

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