The Aspiring Adept: Robert Boyle and His Alchemical Quest

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Princeton University Press, Jun 5, 2018 - Science

The Aspiring Adept presents a provocative new view of Robert Boyle (1627-1691), one of the leading figures of the Scientific Revolution, by revealing for the first time his avid and lifelong pursuit of alchemy. Boyle has traditionally been considered, along with Newton, a founder of modern science because of his mechanical philosophy and his experimentation with the air-pump and other early scientific apparatus. However, Lawrence Principe shows that his alchemical quest--hidden first by Boyle's own codes and secrecy, and later suppressed or ignored--positions him more accurately in the intellectual and cultural crossroads of the seventeenth century.

Principe radically reinterprets Boyle's most famous work, The Sceptical Chymist, to show that it criticizes not alchemists, as has been thought, but "unphilosophical" pharmacists and textbook writers. He then shows Boyle's unambiguous enthusiasm for alchemy in his "lost" Dialogue on the Transmutation and Melioration of Metals, now reconstructed from scattered fragments and presented here in full for the first time. Intriguingly, Boyle believed that the goal of his quest, the Philosopher's Stone, could not only transmute base metals into gold, but could also attract angels. Alchemy could thus act both as a source of knowledge and as a defense against the growing tide of atheism that tormented him. In seeking to integrate the seemingly contradictory facets of Boyle's work, Principe also illuminates how alchemy and other "unscientific" pursuits had a far greater impact on early modern science than has previously been thought.


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ALCHEM Y AND CHEMISTRY A Crucial Note on Terminology and Categories
Boyle Spagyricized
Skeptical of the Sceptical Chymist
The Dialogue on Transmutation Kinds of Transmutations and Boyles Beliefs
Adepti Aspirants and Cheats
Boyle and Alchemical Practice
Motivations Truth Medicine and Religion
A New Boyle and a New Alchemy
APPENDIX 1 Robert Boyles Dialogue on the Transmutation and Melioration of Metals
APPENDIX 2 Interview Accounts of Transmutation and Prefaces to Boyles Other Chrysopoetic Writings
APPENDIX 3 Dialogue on the Converse wit hAngels Aided by the Philosophers Stone

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About the author (2018)

Lawrence M. Principe is Assistant Professor in the Department of Chemistry and the Institute for the History of Science, Medicine, and Technology at The Johns Hopkins University.

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