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Leviathan and the Air-Pump: Hobbes, Boyle, and the Experimental Life

3.98  ·  Rating Details ·  245 Ratings  ·  26 Reviews
Including a translation of Thomas Hobbes, Dialogus physicus de natura aeris by Simon Schaffer

". . . Steven Shapin and Simon Schaffer have ventured beyond ordinary history of science or history of ideas to produce a novel "exercise in the sociology of scientific knowledge.' . . . a historical study rich in new interpretations and notable for the use of sources of a kind not
Hardcover, 456 pages
Published January 21st 1986 by Princeton University Press (first published December 12th 1985)
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(showing 1-30)
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Mar 02, 2014 mpacer rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
So the three stars here is deceptive. What I really need are two separate ratings, one of which would get 1 star, the other of which would get 5 stars.

Lets begin with the whining. The book is dreadfully boring and at times disgustingly poorly written. There were descriptions of various machines and theories and ideas that I could not comprehend after reading them 10 times in a row. And these are descriptions of basic physical movements that (in theory) were aided by the diagrams that they inclu
Michael Burnam-fink
Aug 16, 2014 Michael Burnam-fink rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: academic, history, sts, 2014
Today Boyle is considered the forefather of the experimental method, and Hobbes a titan of political philosophy. This is an artifact of history, as the two were contemporaries and competitors in that strange space called 'Natural Philosophy.' One of the most important books in the history of science and in STS, Leviathan and the Air-Pump looks at the early days of the Royal Society as a constitutional moment. In the controversy over the air experiments, the integrity of the machine, the nature o ...more
Apr 29, 2012 Brad rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This is a curious book. Enormously influential across multiple disciplines, and often cited as one of the books that started the science wars, the bulk of the text is in fact mostly concerned with a microscopic analysis of the dispute between Hobbes and Boyle over the legitimacy of the experimental approach to natural philosophy promoted by the newly founded Royal Society. In particular, the focus is on the experiments with the air-pump promoted by Boyle and his colleagues as emblematic of a new ...more
Meghan Fidler
A Moral Machine:
Measuring the characteristics of Air
in Experiment and in Society

“…an open liberal society was the natural habit of science, taken as the quest for objective knowledge. Such Knowledge, in turn, constituted one of the sureties for the continuance of open and liberal society. Interfere with the one, and you will erode the other.”
-Shapin and Schaffer, 1989; 343

Britain was filled with controversy in the 1660’s. Following a period of civil war, much of Britain was in the process of r
Nov 14, 2010 Bruce rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Aside from its turgid composition and poor cross correlation, the material is fairly well discussed and presented.The level of insight is frequently obliterated by a periodic vapidity but occasionally a striking measure off insight and association sneaks through. After reading this I well understand why so many critics say that science writing is flat awful, although in this case it is history of science. How something as exciting as the experimentation of the early Royal Society in association ...more
Mark Bowles
Aug 30, 2014 Mark Bowles rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A. Summary: This book examines how the rules of the scientific method were established by Boyle. Hobbes protested about much more than the science. He believed that Boyle’s science would disrupt the social order. Their point is that facts are not simply revealed by nature. Instead facts are only a posteriori linked to nature. Scientific facts are established by extrascientific debate. Boyle claimed that his experiments with the air-pump were public, accessible to all, and open to replication. Th ...more
Brent Ranalli
Marred by a writing style that is opaque, so I can't recommend it for the general reader. But a truly profound and important book.

If a non-specialist wants to know what Shapin is all about, I'd recommend starting with A Social History of Truth.
Shapin and Schaffer look at a key debate in the history of science, notably the 17th century dispute between the proto-chemist Robert Boyle and the philosopher Thomas Hobbes over the nature of the vacuum and whether a new device (the air-pump) can actually achieve one. Using this debate as a case study, Shapin and Schaffer peel apart what it means to develop scientific facts, how evidence does or does not convince, the role of political context, and the relative merits and deficits to inductive ...more
Joshua Stein
This is the first book in STS that I've read that doesn't really skimp on philosophy. I understand that Kuhn is a historian, but Shapin and Schaffer manage to show that the two accounts are not only not exclusive, but that they're deeply interdependent. The book, for those unfamiliar, focuses on the creature of what is basically British scientific empiricism and the experimental programme that developed in England during the 17th century [prior even to Hume] in response to the context of the Ref ...more
Mar 10, 2010 Andrew rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I'm only halfway through this, and it's difficult to read because the UMD library copy is missing, so I have to read chapters at a time at the Library of Congress. But this is one of the best books I've ever read - fictional or non: a compelling, impossibly sophisticated account of history, science, philosophy, and epistemology. A continuing project of Shapin, he hopes to tease out what we now call "knowledge" based on its originating arguments. The writers find a helpful debate and metaphor for ...more
Jan 10, 2016 Francesco rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As we come to recognize the conventional and artifactual status of our forms of knowing, we put ourselves in a position to realize that it is ourselves and not reality that is responsible for what we know. Knowledge, as much as the state, is the product of human actions. Hobbes was right.

Non completamente condivisibile, forse, ma incredibilmente stimolante.
Alexandre Guay
Aug 06, 2011 Alexandre Guay rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Une excellent exemple de ce que le constructivisme social peut amener à la philosophie des sciences. À ce titre, le chapitre 2, qui porte sur les modes de constitution des "faits", est exemplaire. Les auteurs y analysent de manière convaincante le caractère original de la conception de la science qu'avait Robert Boyle et montrent bien que la technologie matérielle est loin d'être le seul outil nécessaire à l'établissement des faits.

Bien sûr, à la lecture du livre, on peut parfois sentir combien
Jul 20, 2015 Haris rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
This was a fantastic, insightful read that combines elements of moral philosophy, science, epistemology, ontology, empiricism, social order, assent. Absolutely loved this. The last few pages draw home the takeaway nicely - that the debates between Hobbes and Boyle reflect social and scientific issues -- issues relating knowledge, philosophy, religion, experiment, and governance -- that remain pressing today. The attention to historical detail combined with the attention to intellectual insight w ...more
Aug 05, 2014 Gabriel rated it really liked it
Simon Schaffer is so fun
Michelle Smiley
Sep 18, 2014 Michelle Smiley rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"Hobbes was right!"
Alexi Parizeau
Feb 01, 2016 Alexi Parizeau rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is a tsunami of historical information! While I wasn't terribly interested in the minutiae of history, I was very interested in the author's own synthesis of what it means. Unfortunately, such moments of digested insight are buried within the tome like diamonds in a deep mine. It took quite a bit of perseverance, but I feel I came out far richer in the end.
Kevin Orrman-Rossiter
"The form of life in which we make our scientific knowledge will stand or fall with the way we order our affairs of state." "Knowledge, as much as the state, is the product of human actions. Hobbes was right."
Mar 22, 2012 Caitlin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting study of the Enlightenment controversy over scientific knowledge and procedures, specifically the conflict between Hobbes' absolutism and Boyle's experimental model.
Oct 17, 2011 Beanbrenner rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Certainly not a casual read, but Shapin's work made me re-evaluate the fundamental basis of modern science: the experiment. And honestly, that's pretty impressive.
Oct 05, 2012 Ange rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: school-books

Excellent constructivist analysis of one of the turning points of scientific thinking. I highly recommend it.
Andee Nero
Jul 13, 2015 Andee Nero rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
I feel like this book is certainly an important read, but maybe it was too hyped up for me.
Nov 17, 2013 Eric rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"Solutions to the problem of knowledge are solutions to the problem of social order."
Chris Lawrence
Interesting but a bit over-written and repetitive, so quite a laborious read.
Jul 22, 2010 Shannon rated it it was amazing
I've read it twice now and think it is a fascinating book.
Brent Ranalli
See the older edition for more reviews.
Mar 28, 2013 Mark rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's not bad.
Samuel Greenberg
Samuel Greenberg marked it as to-read
Sep 29, 2016
Todd Taras
Todd Taras marked it as to-read
Sep 27, 2016
Max Nova
Max Nova marked it as to-read
Sep 26, 2016
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