“Experimental Philosophy”: Invention and Rebirth of a Seventeenth-Century Concept

In: Early Science and Medicine
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This essay offers a more dynamic, and historically grounded, context to explain how and why various individuals and groups in England adopted the term “experimental philosophy.” Before the foundation of the Royal Society, I contend, the term had been utilized promiscuously, its modern signification conspicuously absent. Building on this insight, I examine the seemingly deliberate decision by future members of the Royal Society to avoid using the term – and the subsequent shift in their attitude c. 1660. My aim is to demonstrate that while only in England did the fixed conceptual and polemical term “experimental philosophy” become popularized and its (supposed) practice institutionalized, English natural philosophers did not view themselves as engaged in a practice that was fundamentally different than that pursued by their counterparts on the Continent.

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