Experimental Philosophy and Religion in Seventeenth-Century Italy

In Alberto Vanzo & Peter R. Anstey (eds.), Experiment, Speculation and Religion in Early Modern Philosophy. New York: Routledge. pp. 204-228 (2019)
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According to Amos Funkenstein, Stephen Gaukroger and Andrew Cunningham, seventeenth-century natural philosophy was fused with theology, driven by theology, and pursued primarily to shed light on God. Experimental natural philosophy might seem to provide a case in point. According to its English advocates, like Robert Boyle and Thomas Sprat, experimental philosophy embodies the Christian virtues of humility, innocence, and piety, it helps establish God’s existence, attributes, and providence, and it provides a basis for evangelism. This chapter shows that, unlike their English counterparts, experimental philosophers in seventeenth-century Italy kept natural philosophy sharply distinct from theological and religious matters. This indicates that seventeenth-century experimental philosophy was not, as such, theologically driven or oriented. It also suggests that there was no intrinsic relation between experimental philosophy and religion. Whether experimental philosophy was presented as an ally of religion or as distinct from it was, to a significant extent, a matter of cultural politics. It depended on which rhetorical and argumentative strategies were believed to be most likely to ensure freedom of research and institutional support for the work of experimental philosophers in a specific sociopolitical context.
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