Peter Anstey writes…
Eric Schliesser’s comments about the utility of the experimental/speculative distinction, provide an opportunity for me to lay out a distinction that is absolutely central to our project. But let’s hear from Eric first: I quote from his blog post on It’s Only a Theory:
- It ignores at least one other group of philosophers, namely those that believed in (mathematical) theory mediated measurement. I am thinking of Galileo, Huygens, and Newton, among the best known. These are not best described as experimental, although all were accomplished experimentalists (and Newton’s Optics is often assimilated to experimental traditions), but their work has very different character from say, Bacon or Boyle. (They are also not best described as speculative, because all three practiced a self-restraint on published speculation.) Certainly after the Principia this approach created standing challenge to all other forms of philosophizing. So the Otago framework will run into big trouble in 18th century.
We’ve already shown that, in fact, the terminology of the experimental philosophy is very prevalent in the 18th century and, moreover, that the experimental philosophy was extended beyond natural philosophy into moral philosophy and even aesthetics. See, for example, the works of George Turnbull which are a good example of experimental moral philosophy.
But the important issue Eric raises has to do with those who practised ‘theory mediated measurement’ such as Galileo, Huygens and Newton. What our research has shown is that the experimental philosophy was practised in two quite different ways. Up until the 1690s, Boyle, Hooke and the early Royal Society practised experimental philosophy according to the method of Baconian natural history. However, from the last decade of the seventeenth century Newton’s new mathematical natural philosophical method came to be seen as the preferred method of experimental philosophy. The Baconian natural history program started to run out of steam in the 1690s and it soon came to be replaced by the Newtonian method. This is, in fact, the explanation of Newton’s common refrain ‘Natural philosophy is not natural history’. And Newton himself had a large hand in the demise of the Baconian approach to experimental philosophy both through criticism and through his own positive alternative. Far from providing an exception to our framework, Newton, the self-confessed experimental philosopher, is one of the central players!