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Journal of Philosophical Research

Volume 19, 1994

Struan Jacobs
Pages 373-393

Laws of Nature, Corpuscules, and Concourse
Non-Occasionalist Tendencies in the Natural Philosophy of Robert Boyle

It has been said that Robert Boyle gave in the century of The Scientific Revolution the “fullest expression” of the view that laws of nature are continually impressed by God (“occasionalism”). So regarded, the universe is anything but an autonomous machine, its ordered operation depending on God’s continuous imposition of lawful, patterned relations between phenomena and his continuous provision of motion for them to actually enter relations. The present paper contests this treatment of Boyle. Evidence is elicited to show that, for Boyle, most physical relations issue from intrinsic dispositions of phenomena, not divine impositions, dispositions determined by corpuscular textures. Members of classes of phenomena have capacities to make specific changes which members of other classes have capacities to receive, these correlative capacities being necessarily connected, subjects in principle of a priori synthetic necessary knowledge. The same view is found in John Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding. It is additionally argued that Boyle’s God, the quintessentially active being, imparted motion at the creation, whereafter the motion of (at least most) natural phenomena has derived from natural, not supernatural, impulsion.

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