Volume 2, Issue 1, Spring 2013
The Creative Role of Experimentation in Early Modern Science
One Experiment, Different Uses: Floating Magnetic Bodies in Peregrinus, Norman and Gilbert
This paper argues that local epistemic aims shape and transform the function played by an experiment. It shows that different uses of the same experimental context change the status of the experiment in the larger knowledge scheme. I deal with this problem in the context of early modern science, where experiments were often transferred from one domain of knowledge or from one problem to another. Thus, I assess how the technique of freely floating magnetic bodies was used experimentally in the following treatises: Peter Peregrinus’ Epistola de magnete, Robert Norman’s The Newe Attractive and William Gilbert’s De magnete. If the thesis is correct, then context-sensitive analyses of the transfer of experiments across domains (or problems) are necessary in order to understand both the function of the experiment in each knowledge context and what legitimizes the transfer.