Essence, Experiment, and Underdetermination in the Spinoza-Boyle Correspondence

Hopos: The Journal of the International Society for the History of Philosophy of Science 12 (2):447-484 (2022)
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I examine the (mediated) correspondence between Spinoza and Robert Boyle concerning the latter’s account of fluidity and his experiments on reconstitution of niter in the light of the epistemology and doctrine of method contained in the Treatise on the Emendation of the Intellect. I argue that both the Treatise and the correspondence reveal that for Spinoza, the proper method of science is not experimental, and that he accepted a powerful under-determination thesis. I argue that, in contrast to modern versions, Spinoza’s form of naturalism was a highly rationalist and anti-empirical one. I conclude with a brief account of the value of experience and experimentation for Spinoza’s scientific method.

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Stephen Harrop
Mount Holyoke College


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