The English natural philosopher and chemist Robert Boyle, b. Jan. 25, 1627, d. Dec. 30, 1691, made important contributions to experimental chemistry and is known for his ideal Gas Law, subsequently termed Boyle's law.


Robert Boyle (1627-1691)The English natural philosopher and chemist Robert Boyle, b. Jan. 25, 1627, d. Dec. 30, 1691, made important contributions to experimental chemistry and is known for his ideal Gas Law, subsequently termed Boyle's law.

Boyle was born into an affluent English aristocratic family and received a conventional gentleman's education. He became interested in medicine and the new science of Galileo and studied chemistry. Boyle was a founder and an influential fellow of the Royal Society, was continuously active in scientific affairs, and wrote prolifically on science, philosophy, and theology.

Boyle's earliest publication was on the physical properties of air, from which he derived his law that the volume of a given amount of a gas varies inversely with pressure. His work in chemistry was aimed at establishing it as a rational theoretical science on the basis of a mechanistic theory of matter. Boyle was a skillful experimenter who insisted that experimentation was an essential part of scientific proof, an approach that influenced Sir Isaac Newton and the methodology of many later scientists.

It is his experiments performed at Stalbridge into the laws of pneumatics by which he is best remembered. He inherited the old Elizabethan house which stood at Stalbridge, but if fate had been less kind he would never have made his discoveries, because he was not only nearly drowned whilst crossing a river on horseback, but narrowly escaped death when a ceiling collapsed on him. Sadly the house at Stalbridge Park is no more, only the gate piers remain, surmounted by heraldic beasts. It was demolished in 1822.

 

Robert Boyle and the Limits of ReasonRobert Boyle and the Limits of Reason (Jan W. Wojcik)

In this study of Robert Boyle's epistemology, the author reveals the theological context within which Boyle developed his views on reasons limits. After arguing that a correct interpretation of his views on things above reason depends upon reading his works in the context of theological controversies in 17th-century England, Jan Wojcik details exactly how Boyle's three specific categories of things which transcend reason - the incomprehensible, the inexplicable, and the unsociable - affected his conception of what a natural philosopher could hope to know. Also covered in detail is Boyle's belief that God had deliberately limited the human intellect in order to reserve a full knowledge of both theology and natural philosophy for the afterlife.

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