Handling "Occult Qualities" in the Scientific Revolution

Disciplines and New Approaches to Natural Philosophy, from John Dee to Isaac Newton


The Scientific Revolution saw the redefinition of many scholastic notions about the nature of the world and its constituent parts, from planets to particles. Wang’s book introduces a convincing and wide-ranging narrative of the changing place of ‘occult qualities’ in the context of emergent new scientific methods and early modern disciplinary realignments. Through in-depth analysis of the diverse treatments of this notion, whereby it becomes now a hollow phrase, now a touchstone for the superiority of new physics, Wang shows how the transformation of this notion is key to understanding almost every facet of the new physics of the age.

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Xiaona Wang, Ph. D. (2019, University of Edinburgh), is now a Leverhulme Early Career Research Fellow at the University of Warwick, Centre for the Study of the Renaissance, working on a three-year project on early modern gravitational theories.


1 Re-disciplining “Occult Qualities”: Mechanics and the Mixed Mathematical Sciences
 1.1 Being “Skilled in ‘Catoptrics’ ”
 1.2 Testing a Body of “Astronomical Hypotheses”
 1.3 Dismissing “Idle Imaginings”
 1.4 Creating the “Unheard-of Paradox”

2 Manifesting “Occult Causes”: Empirical Investigations and Experimental Philosophy
 2.1 The Physician’s Pathway
 2.2 The Baconian Method
 2.3 Occult Causes; Manifest Effects
 2.4 The “Physico-Mathematicall-Experimentall” Programme

3 Employing the Occult Powers of the Lodestone and Orbital Motions
 3.1 Gilbert’s Magnetism
 3.2 Magnetism and Gravity
 3.3 Approaches to Orbital Motions

4 Exploring Hidden Qualities of Matter: “vis activa”
 4.1 Matter Emits (Magnetical) Effluvia
 4.2 Matter Vibrates and So Does Aether
 4.3 Matter Attracts and Repels

5 Reintroducing “Occult Qualities” into Natural Philosophy? Newton’s Approaches to Physics
 5.1 Early Immersion in the Mixed Mathematical Programme
 5.2 The Inimitable Newtonian Methodology: Dynamics
 5.3 Approaches to Physics and Active Principles

The book will appeal to a broad range of readers interested in intellectual history, the history of early modern science and philosophy, the Scientific Revolution, and Newton in particular.
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