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Pump and Circumstance: Robert Boyle's Literary Technology

Steven Shapin
Social Studies of Science
Vol. 14, No. 4 (Nov., 1984), pp. 481-520
Published by: Sage Publications, Ltd.
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/284940
Page Count: 40
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Pump and Circumstance: Robert Boyle's Literary Technology
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Abstract

Robert Boyle's experimental programme had as its end-product the generation of indisputable matters of fact. In this paper I analyze the resources used to produce these matters of fact, paying particular attention to linguistic practices. Experimental reports rich in circumstantial detail were designed to enable readers of the text to create a mental image of an experimental scene they did not directly witness. I call this 'virtual witnessing', and its importance was as a means of enlarging the witnessing public. The notion of a 'public' for experimental science is, I argue, essential to our understanding of how facts are generated and validated. In these episodes, circumstantial reporting was a technique for creating a public and for constituting authentic knowledge.

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