"Petty magic to experiment": The seventeenth century's Scientific Revolution and the closing of this world to the next


The shift from a traditional, being-based Christian cosmology---in which God creates all things through an ontologically-invested reason in which man shares---to a voluntarist, will-based Christian cosmology---in which God creates all things through an arbitrary act of will knowable to man only through experience---is considered crucial to the rise of empiricism and its related experimental method, two cornerstones of the Scientific Revolution. This dissertation examines how the shift from a being- to a logos-based cosmology, with its entailed shift from a realist to a nominalist ontology, affected this world's relation to a next. It explores this issue by considering the resurrection views of three writers whose works, taken together, span the seventeenth-century both temporally and intellectually, from the vestigial medieval scholasticism of John Donne (1572--1631) through the Renaissance neo-Platonism of Thomas Browne (1605--1682) to the Early-Modern mechanism of Robert Boyle (1627--1691). This dissertation argues that the traditional, being-based cosmologies shared by Donne and Browne underlie their teleological understandings of natural processes and, in doing so, allows them to find evidence in this world for resurrection to the next. Boyle's voluntarist cosmology, on the other hand, banishes inherent teleology from the natural world and thereby silences this world with regard to a next. This dissertation further argues that this shift in cosmology and more specifically, the entailed shift from a realist to a nominalist ontology, allowed man to make nature speak a new, operational language that could be used to man's benefit. By considering works written around the time of London's 1665 plague, we will see how mechanistic medicine produced such operational knowledge through the use of human-made instruments and methods, including experimentation. Although such knowledge provides no intelligence about a next world, it does allow humanity to make its way better in this one

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This paper was published in DSpace at Rice University.

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