Robert Schofield explores the rational elements of British experimental natural philosophy in the 18th century by tracing the influence of two opposing concepts of the nature of matter and its action—mechanism and materialism. Both concepts rested on the Newtonian interpretation of their proponents, although each developed more or less independently. By integrating the developments in all the areas of experimental natural philosophy, describing their connections and the influences of Continental science, natural theology, and to a lesser degree social and institutional changes, the author demonstrates that mechanistic concepts dominated interpretations from about 1687 to 1740, when they were replaced by materialistic concepts. A revival of the mechanistic approach early in the next century made England a fertile field for ideas on the dynamic interaction of forces.
Originally published in 1970.
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