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The Collapse of Mechanism and the Rise of SensibilityScience and the Shaping of Modernity, 1680-1760$
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Stephen Gaukroger

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9780199594931

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199594931.001.0001

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Living and Dead Matter

Living and Dead Matter

(p.355) 10 Living and Dead Matter
The Collapse of Mechanism and the Rise of Sensibility

Stephen Gaukroger (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

Mid‐eighteenth century studies of electricity and chemistry encouraged an understanding of matter as something active, but they were unable to offer any account of what this activity was in general terms, and to what extent it characterized matter beyond the local phenomena that these disciplines studied. A general account of the activity of matter was needed if there was to be a hope of replacing what many considered the now defunct mechanist model. Such a general account emerged in natural history in the 1740s, as it became transformed, especially in the work of Buffon, into a powerful, large‐scale form of natural philosophy in which matter as conceived by mechanists became merely a sub‐species when matter was construed in its most general terms. With Buffon, a developmental understanding of matter emerges.

Keywords:   matter theory, George‐Louis Buffon, natural history, mechanism, developmental accounts of nature

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