Tags: Charles Babbage, John-Joseph Merlin, Joseph Clement, Simon Schaffer, William Whewell
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We continue the “Machine Philosophy” series with Schaffer’s examination in two essays of the work and thought of mathematician Charles Babbage (1791–1871):
1) “Babbage’s Intelligence: Calculating Engines and the Factory System,” Critical Inquiry 21 (1994): 203-227. [BI]
2) “Babbage’s Dancer and the Impresarios of Mechanism,” in Cultural Babbage: Technology, Time and Invention, edited by Francis Spufford and Jenny Uglow (London and Boston: Faber and Faber, 1996). Reproduced here. [BD]
These essays were published early on in Schaffer’s concern with “machine philosophy,” but they depict the chronological culmination of that philosophy’s ideological potential. In Schaffer’s telling, Babbage’s “lifelong campaign for the rationalization of the world” (BD, 53) was manifested in 1) his mechanization of not simply physical, but mental labor through his calculating engines; 2) his thinking concerning the factory system of manufactures, which, by the time he worked, was deep into its ascendancy in the British economy; and 3) his “Ninth Bridgewater Treatise” on the nature of God and miracles.
Schaffer on Machine Philosophy, Pt. 5b: Automata and the Enlightenment December 13, 2014Posted by Will Thomas in Schaffer Oeuvre.
Tags: Bruno Latour, Charles Babbage, Christian Wolff, Dan Christensen, Henri Brunschwig, Immanuel Kant, Jacques de Vaucanson, James Cox, Jean Jacquard, John-Joseph Merlin, Joseph Priestley, Josiah Wedgwood, Leonhard Euler, Mary Terrall, Pierre Jaquet-Droz, Robert Darnton, Simon Schaffer, William Clark, William Kenrick
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This post concludes my look at Simon Schaffer, “Enlightened Automata” in The Sciences in Enlightened Europe, edited by William Clark, Jan Golinski, and Schaffer (Chicago University Press, 1999).
As detailed in previous posts, Schaffer’s interest in 18th-century automata in this piece is mainly a means of making larger points about the intellectual culture of the Enlightenment, and its links to an emerging economic order of industrialism and managerialism. In doing so, he contributes an interpretive gloss that joins an existing general historiography of Enlightenment ideology, with a historiography of the automaton creations of such figures as Jacques de Vaucanson (1709–1782), Pierre Jaquet-Droz (1721–1790), and John-Joseph Merlin (1735–1803). This post discusses this second facet of the history.
For Schaffer, the key questions are: 1) what interests did automata engage, allowing them to proliferate as objects of display and fascination? and 2) in what ways did they speak to the concerns of philosophers and other commentators of the period, making them into salient metaphors and objects of intellectual reflection?
Schaffer on Machine Philosophy, Pt. 5a: Automata and the Proto-Industrial Ideology of the Enlightenment — History September 18, 2014Posted by Will Thomas in Schaffer Oeuvre.
Tags: Adam Smith, Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier, Charles Coulomb, Charles Dufay, David Hume, Derek Price, Francois Quesnay, Gottfried Leibniz, Henry Maudslay, Isaac Newton, Jacques Vaucanson, Jeremy Bentham, Julien Offray de La Mettrie, Marc Brunel, Max Horkheimer, Rene Descartes, Rupert Hall, Samuel Bentham, Samuel Clarke, Simon Schaffer, Theodor Adorno
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This post continues my look at Simon Schaffer, “Enlightened Automata” in The Sciences in Enlightened Europe, edited by William Clark, Jan Golinski, and Schaffer (Chicago University Press, 1999).
Pt. 4 examined Schaffer’s characterization of an ideology associated with the Enlightenment, reflected in the era’s fascination with automata. This ideology revolved around the belief that physiology, labor, cognition, and social relations could be comprehended in mechanical terms, and governed according to philosophically derived managerial regimens. Pt. 4 also explored Schaffer’s situation of his arguments within a large, diverse, and venerable historiography of the mechanistic aspirations of the Enlightenment.
Pt. 5 turns to look at the historical events that Schaffer marshaled into his history of this ideology.
Tags: Alexandre Koyré, Derek de Solla Price, Eduard Jan Dijksterhuis, Rene Descartes, Richard of Wallingford, Rupert Hall, Silvio Bedini, Thomas Aquinas
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Before we proceed further with our discussion of Simon Schaffer’s “Enlightened Automata” (1999), I’d like to go back a further 35 years to take a look at Derek J. de Solla Price, “Automata and the Origins of Mechanism and Mechanistic Philosophy,” Technology and Culture 5 (1964): 9-23. This should give us some sense of how much and how little the literature had changed by the time Schaffer wrote.
Price’s article was written in a period when historians were interested in defining and tracing the shifts in thought that they took to be crucial to the development of modern science. The tradition of scholarship is closely associated with figures such as Alexandre Koyré (1892-1964) and Rupert Hall (1920-2009), whose touchstone work, The Scientific Revolution: The Formation of the Modern Scientific Attitude, appeared in 1954.
Probably the most important shift these authors attended to was the rise of “mechanistic” modes of explaining natural phenomena, punctuated by the philosophy of René Descartes (1596-1650) and the achievements of Isaac Newton (1643-1727). Price’s aim was to investigate the intellectual relationship between mechanistic philosophy (“or mechanicism to use the appropriate term coined by Dijksterhuis,” 10*) and the creation of sophisticated mechanisms.
Schaffer on Machine Philosophy, Pt. 4: Automata and the Proto-Industrial Ideology of the Enlightenment — Historiography August 13, 2014Posted by Will Thomas in Ideology of Science, Schaffer Oeuvre.
Tags: Adelheid Voskuhl, Alan Q. Morton, Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier, Charles Coulomb, Dena Goodman, Ernst Cassirer, Frederick the Great, Immanuel Kant, James Graham, Jürgen Habermas, Jean Ehrard, Jean-Marie Apostolides, Joan Landes, John Cleland, John Desaguliers, Julien Offray de La Mettrie, Karl Marx, Ken Alder, Leo Braudy, Lissa Roberts, Marquis de Sade, Michel Foucault, Norton Wise, Otto Mayr, Peter Dear, Reinhart Koselleck, Roger Chartier, Roland Barthes, Roy Porter, Simon Schaffer, Terry Castle, Thomas Markus, Walter Benjamin, William Sewell
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Simon Schaffer, “Enlightened Automata” in The Sciences in Enlightened Europe, edited by William Clark, Jan Golinski, and Schaffer (Chicago University Press, 1999)
“Enlightened Automata” is one of Schaffer’s few pieces that is especially forthright about the overarching scholarly project of which it is a part. It is certainly the centerpiece — and his clearest exposition — of his work on what he occasionally referred to as “machine philosophy,” a concept that interrelates several historical developments:
- The rising use of mechanisms in philosophical experiments, which have the virtue of preventing human fallibility and prejudice from influencing their outcomes.
- The use of mechanisms as explanatory metaphors in natural, moral, and political philosophy.
- The replication of natural phenomena and human behavior in mechanisms, i.e. automata.
- Industrialization, i.e., the replacement of craft processes with machinery, and the concomitant regulation and control of human action, especially manual labor, through managerial regimes.
Schaffer takes these four developments (but especially 2 and 4) to characterize the ideological ambitions of the Enlightenment. In “Enlightened Automata,” he leverages the history of the construction and display of automata (3), and commentary on such automata, as a means of probing these ambitions.
Tags: Charles Dufay, Granville Wheler, Harry Collins, Immanuel Kant, Martin Rudwick, Simon Schaffer, Stephen Gray, Steven Shapin
This post (at long last) concludes my look at Simon Schaffer, “Experimenters’ Techniques, Dyers’ Hands, and the Electric Planetarium,” Isis 88 (1997): 456-483. To refresh yourself on the history of the electric planetarium experiment, see here; for further discussion of Schaffer’s interest in the role of manual technique in that history, see here.
An important feature of Stephen Gray (1666-1736) and Granville Wheler’s (1701-1770) electric planetarium experiment was the claim that the revolution of a small, electrically charged object around a larger sphere might well illuminate the nature of the force that drives the planets in circular orbits around the sun. One obvious question—but one which Schaffer does not directly address—is how such a rudimentary and solitary experiment could credibly purport, even speculatively, to offer insight into such a grand and seemingly remote problem as planetary motion.
This, I think, is a question that forces us to think about the fundamental nature of early eighteenth-century natural philosophical inquiry. It is especially necessary to examine the distinctions and relations between experimental and speculative philosophy. On this distinction, also see the Otago philosophy of science group’s blog; but, where the Otago group tends to view experimentalism and speculation as different strands of philosophy, I would view them more as different facets of the same philosophical enterprise.
Schaffer on Gestural Knowledge and Philosophical Ideologies, and Their Historiographical Ramifications October 27, 2013Posted by Will Thomas in Ideology of Science, Schaffer Oeuvre.
Tags: Charles Dufay, Ephraim Chambers, Granville Wheler, Harry Collins, I. Bernard Cohen, James Joule, Marcel Mauss, Michael Polanyi, Michel Foucault, Otto Sibum, R. W. Home, Simon Schaffer, Stephen Gray, Stephen Pumfrey, Steven Shapin
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In “Experimenters’ Techniques, Dyers’ Hands, and the Electric Planetarium” (1997), Simon Schaffer makes a set of ambitious arguments concerning how 18th-century natural philosophy regarded knowledge that is dependent upon, and sometimes tacit within, manual labor. His entryway into this problem is the frequently ineffable manual skill required in early electrical experimentation, and the intriguing coincidence that two of the most prominent early 18th-century electrical experimenters, Stephen Gray (1666-1736) and Charles Dufay (1698-1739), were, respectively, a former Canterbury cloth dyer and overseer of the Gobelins dye works in Paris.
Schaffer on Stephen Gray and Granville Wheler’s Electric Planetarium October 20, 2013Posted by Will Thomas in Schaffer Oeuvre.
Tags: Charles Dufay, Cromwell Mortimer, Granville Wheler, John Heilbron, Simon Schaffer, Stephen Gray
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Over the span of a number of articles Simon Schaffer wrote in the mid-to-late 1990s, he forcefully argued for the existence and importance of a particular historical phenomenon, prevalent in the 18th and 19th centuries. This was natural philosophers’ and projectors’ use of mechanical devices to attempt to gain intellectual authority over others’ ideas and labor, which was to be accomplished by making that authority appear to emanate from the machines themselves, rather than from the deft manipulation of the social settings in which those machines were deployed. Although Schaffer only used it a couple of times, I am using his term “machine philosophy” to refer to his conception of this strategy. I will further explain his arguments concerning machine philosophy—and, of course, offer my opinion of those arguments—in future posts.
I had originally thought I was going to discuss Schaffer’s “Experimenters’ Techniques, Dyers’ Hands, and the Electric Planetarium,” Isis 88 (1997): 456-483 (free) in the “Schaffer on Machine Philosophy” series. However, once I really got into the piece, I realized that he does not regard the “electric planetarium” experiment (above left) in the same vein as he regards, say, Atwood’s Machine. In Schaffer’s historical schematic, the electric planetarium would not have been part of the machine philosophy rising at that time explicitly because what authority it commanded was held to reside in the embodied skill and social integrity of the experimenter.
Schaffer on Machine Philosophy, Pt. 3: Perpetual Motion September 29, 2013Posted by Will Thomas in Chymistry, Schaffer Oeuvre.
Tags: Andre Wakefield, Bruce Moran, Christiaan Huygens, Denis Papin, Gottfried Leibniz, Isaac Newton, Jan van Musschenbroek, Johann Bernoulli, Johann Bessler, Lawrence Principe, Mario Biagioli, Pamela Smith, Robert Boyle, Samuel Clarke, Simon Schaffer, Willem 's Gravesande
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In this post we look at Simon Schaffer’s “The Show That Never Ends: Perpetual Motion in the Early Eighteenth Century,” British Journal for the History of Science 28 (1995): 157-189, in which he sets himself the task of explaining the intellectual and political viability of perpetual motion schemes, particularly in “the lands dominated by the Hapsburgs, the Empire and northern Italy” (162). This is a difficult challenge, since, as Schaffer points out, such machines had been subjected to widespread doubt and criticism from the middle of the seventeenth century. Yet, they did have a place, and what Schaffer, I think, accomplishes here is that he makes that place fit more coherently into what we know about how, in general, engineering and philosophical novelties were handled in the early 18th-century milieu.
Schaffer on Machine Philosophy, Pt. 2: Atwood’s Machine and the Status of Newtonian Philosophy September 15, 2013Posted by Will Thomas in Schaffer Oeuvre.
Tags: George Atwood, Gottfried Leibniz, Henry Pemberton, Isaac Newton, James Watt, John Desaguliers, John Playfair, John Smeaton, Joseph Priestley, Nevil Maskelyne, Simon Schaffer, Willem 's Gravesande
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This post continues our examination of Simon Schaffer’s “Machine Philosophy: Demonstration Devices in Georgian Mechanics” (1994). Last time, we looked at how Atwood’s Machine was used at Cambridge as a dramatic means of convincing mathematics students of the validity of Newton’s laws, which they were expected to use to explain various physical phenomena. Here we examine how proponents of Isaac Newton’s mechanics tried to use the machine to make points with audiences whose perceptions of the reach and fundamentality of Newton’s laws were varied and unstable.
First, though, let’s revisit some of the themes of Schaffer’s earlier works to see how this piece fits into a larger picture.