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Leviathan and the Air-Pump: Hobbes, Boyle, and the Experimental Life 1st Edition

4.4 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0691024325
ISBN-10: 0691024324
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Editorial Reviews

Review

". . . Steven Shapin and Simon Schaffer have ventured beyond ordinary history of science or history of ideas to produce a novel 'exercise in the sociology of scientific knowledge.' . . . a historical study rich in new interpretations and notable for the use of sources of a kind not hitherto fully exploited by scholars."--Clive Holmes, American Historical Review



"Shapin and Schaffer work out the implications of these debates [between Hobbes and Boyle] for the history of science with great skill of interpretation and exposition. They use their findings and their analysis to give an explanation of the experimental enterprise in general, which, although it is not philosophical in nature, always takes philosophy most seriously. This is simply one of the most original, enjoyable and important books published in the history of science in recent years."--Owen Hannaway, Technology and Culture



"If any proof of the intellectual buoyancy or intrinsic worth of the history and philosophy for science was needed, nothing better could be provided than this study by Steven Shapin and Simon Schaffer. . . . Their findings suggest the futility of wrenching science from its ideological context, and not only with respect to the seventeenth century; they also detect parallels with the crisis of confidence affecting contemporary science."--Charles Webster, The Times Literary Supplement

About the Author

Steven Shapin is the Franklin L. Ford Professor of the History of Science at Harvard University. Simon Schaffer is professor of history of science at the University of Cambridge. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 456 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press; 1 edition (October 1, 1989)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691024324
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691024325
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.2 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #681,231 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Howard Robbins on January 4, 1999
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The authors begin their review of the 17th-century Hobbes-Boyle controversy by declaring their intent to judge Hobbes and his opponents by different standards, so it is not surprising that they end by concluding (p344) that "Hobbes was right".

Their stated reason for adapting a pro-Hobbes stance is that the opposite view (that Hobbes was wrong) has been so thoroughly documented that not much new could be added. Only by adopting a "charitable" view of Hobbes, and a critical view of his opponents, could they make a significant new contribution. They wanted to make a splash, not a ripple!

Their bias is expressed by selective omission of information unfavorable to Hobbes. In particular, readers are not informed that a "Torricelli apparatus" and a "mercury barometer" are functionally identical; the height of the mercury column varies with altitude and weather conditions. The temporal variability was predicted and observed by Torricelli, a decade before Boyle built his air pump. But Shapin and Shaffer do not even mention it, except in connection with a suggestion (p164) that one experimenter may have fudged his data. These variations were inexplicable to Hobbes, and falsified his theory.

[There is evidence here of a missed opportunity. Boyle's air pump was very expensive, but the Torricelli apparatus was much cheaper. If Boyle and his associates had improved it for ruggedness, portability, and easy reading, made and distributed many copies, and recorded and compared the temporal variations at different locations (or in the same locality) they could have conclusively proved the atmospheric-pressure theory, popularized it beyond dispute, and jump-started the infant science of meteorology.
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Format: Paperback
*Leviathan and the Air-Pump* is one of the touchstones of 20th century "science studies", in particular of that more radical precinct known as the "strong program" associated with the authors' University of Edinburgh colleagues: while many mainstream philosophers of science barely disguised their undying awe of the story of physical science from Galileo to quantum mechanics, the "strong" theorists decided to take their own social-scientific tools and problems seriously when dealing with science. Even if you still snigger at the thought of the "Sokal hoax", this is a beautifully done treatment of a paradigmatic advance in physical science where the intellectual consequences of the adoption of a new piece of experimental equipment, the air-pump, were far from obvious and far from contested.

In a way, Thomas Hobbes is the whipping-boy of the Scientific Revolution. Though his own political philosophy was epochal, and he ensured the best audience for it by carefully navigating the more or less literal minefields of 17th century Britain, tales of his mathematical and physical ineptitude are still told to amuse young scientists. Robert Boyle, whose theories are the distant ancestors of the modern doctrine of gases, engaged in controversy with Hobbes over the possibility of a vacuum completely empty of matter: since we now think of vacuum as what most of the universe is composed of, this incident surely could only be played for laughs, right? Shapin and Schiffer take it perfectly seriously, and the aforementioned social history is constantly invoked to provide background for the conflict.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is a classic! Tells a story that was little understood (before the book was written) about the development of experimental
science in the 17th century (the scientific revolution) and has great relevance for today's discussions about science, "theory" and belief.
The controversies between the philosophy/scientist Thomas Hobbes and the scientist/philosopher Robert Boyle and their colleagues
show how difficult it is to establish facts, and how little people who are not directly involved in doing science understand the process.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is a history not to be missed discussed to a faretherwell as the excitement and inspiration of open scientific explorations became the attraction opening the door to science full out for sale. Seeing became believing when believing called for seeing. Kary Mullis's TED appearance sold me on this book and more.
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Came on time and in good condition. I didn't have to wait and there was no hassle.
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