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Dana Jalobeanu (University of Bucharest): ‘What is a good hypothesis? Methodological tolerance and experimental philosophy in the seventeenth century’

8 February, 12:00 pm1:30 pm

Abstract: In the seventeenth century, experiments had a life of their own. They were traveling, for example: from books of secrets to collections of recipes and medical observationes; from volumes of natural magic to treatises of mechanics and natural philosophy. ‘Experimentum’ was an umbrella term, designating, in turn, tested recipes, empirical trials, series of observations, and many other things. Under all these shapes and forms, experiments were used to clarify and redefine terms, to sparkle or to settle debates, and to construct, correct or reformulate hypotheses. Seventeenth-century natural philosophers also attempted to classify and clarify the meanings of all these terms, devising methodologies of experimental investigation. In this paper I investigate several such attempts to theorize the complex interplay between experiential knowledge and the formation of hypotheses coming from philosophers on both sides of the Channel. My characters are natural philosophers and medical practitioners with a keen interest in experiments; and some identify themselves as ‘experimental philosophers’. To date, historians placed these philosophers in different camps: vitalists versus mechanists, Cartesians versus Baconians, experimental philosophers versus speculative philosophers. I show that they have a lot in common; most notably, a keen interest in methodology. I also show that, contrary to the current historiographic divides, their methodologies were much more inclusive than usually assumed. A certain methodological tolerance characterized both the experimental investigations and the new philosophies of experiment. And it is precisely this methodological tolerance that facilitated both the circulation of experimental knowledge and the formation of common, operational vocabularies, in many communities of practice throughout the seventeenth-century.

Dana Jalobeanu is an Associate Professor at the Department of Theoretical Philosophy at the University of Bucharest.


8 February
12:00 pm – 1:30 pm
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