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This chapter offers an overview of key points of entry for the study of eighteenth-century science. The first section addresses how seventeenth-century philosophers challenged Aristotelianism and ancient cosmologies. The second details the importance of empiricism in the new study of the natural world. The third focuses on the roles of specific instruments and institutions in natural philosophical inquiry. Sections four and five cover two of the fiercest philosophical debates of the period: first, about gravity and action at a distance, and second, about theories of matter and spirit. The final section examines encyclopaedism and the emergence toward the end of the century of three new sub-disciplines: chemistry, botany, and geology. A distinguishing feature of eighteenth-century science is how closely it was interwoven with theology. Theories about providence and intelligent design were central to nearly every scientific debate because it was assumed that studying the causes of natural phenomena was the best way to understand the Prime Mover’s intentions for humankind. Accordingly, a recurrent theme in this chapter is the interconnection of religion and science.
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