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Isaac Beeckman on Matter and Motion

, 280 pages

9 line drawings

June 2013



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Isaac Beeckman on Matter and Motion

Mechanical Philosophy in the Making

The contribution of the Dutch craftsman and scholar Isaac Beeckman to early modern scientific thought has never been properly acknowledged. Surprisingly free from the constraints of traditional natural philosophy, he developed a view of the world in which everything, from the motion of the heavens to musical harmonies, is explained by reducing it to matter in motion. His ideas deeply influenced Descartes and Gassendi. Klaas van Berkel has succeeded in unearthing and explicating Beeckman's scientific notebooks, allowing us to follow how he developed his new philosophy, almost day by day.

Beeckman was almost forgotten until the discovery of his notebooks in the early twentieth century. Isaac Beeckman on Matter and Motion is the first full-length study of the ideas and motives of this remarkable figure. Van Berkel's important study first relates Beeckman's life, placing him in the religious, intellectual, educational, and social context of the Dutch Republic in its golden age. Van Berkel then analyzes the notebooks themselves and the nature and development of Beeckman's "mechanical philosophy." He demonstrates how Beeckman's artisanal background and religious convictions shaped his natural philosophy, even as the decisive influence stems from the educational philosophy of the sixteenth-century French philosopher Peter Ramus.

Historians of science and the philosophy of science will find the substance of Beeckman's thought and the unraveling of its growth and development highly interesting. Van Berkel's account provides a new and comprehensive interpretation of the origins of the mechanical philosophy of nature, the philosophy that culminated in the work of Isaac Newton.

Klaas van Berkel is the Rudolf Agricola Professor of History at the University of Groningen.

"The judicious piecing together of the fragmentary biographical material with the content of Beeckman's scientific diary not only brings back to life an extraordinary scientific practitioner but helps shed new light on the nature of European science on the eve of the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century."

"This is an exceedingly rich book... it should be mandatory reading for anyone interested in the origins of modern science."

"Van Berkel has uncovered the rich content and historical significance of Beeckman and his journal."

"Van Berkel has done an admirable job of recreating Beeckman's life and helping us to understand his development and his place in the progress of science in the seventeenth century."

"A thoroughly researched... study of Beeckman's life and scientific achievements."

"In the present book Van Berkel succeeds in revealing the context as well as the content of Beeckman's life and scholarly work... An important contribution to the history of the new science of the seventeenth century, and is a must for every scholar of this period."

"... Van Berkel’s book is an important contribution to our understanding of early modern natural philosophy."

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