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.
Tags: Allen Debus, Étienne-François Geoffroy, Bernard de Fontenelle, Betty Jo Teeter Dobbs, Bruce Moran, David Brewster, F. Sherwood Taylor, George Sarton, Herbert Butterfield, Herman Boerhaave, Isaac Newton, Joan-Baptista van Helmont, John Maynard Keynes, Kevin Chang, Lawrence Principe, Pamela Smith, Paracelsus, Richard Westfall, Walter Pagel, William Newman
I know, I know, my scholarly crush on the chymistry literature is probably getting a little embarrassing. But I want to make sure everyone is taking notes like I am, because William Newman, Lawrence Principe, and their crowd are really putting on a clinic on how to run a proper historiography. The latest lesson is in putting together a good Isis Focus section: “Alchemy and the History of Science”, organized by Bruce Moran, and available free of charge in the latest issue.
I’ve been very happy to see this specialty spring to success, receiving both scholarly praise and public exposure in places like the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Economist, and the New York Times. I am a bit worried that this success will be held up as simply a product of the virtues of historical scholarship. To an extent it should be, for reasons I will discuss, but I also think it’s important that the rest of us — including those of us working in decidedly remote terrain like 20th-century science — pay close attention to what these scholars are doing particularly right.