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The pharmakon of ‘If’: working with Steven Shapin's A Social History of Truth

  • MICHAEL WINTROUB (a1)

Abstract

Whilst the ‘local culture’ of experimental natural philosophy in seventeenth-century England drew on ‘resources’ supplied by the gentlemanly identity of men like Robert Boyle, this culture found much of its distinctiveness in a series of exclusions having to do with faith, gender and class. My concern in this essay is less with these exclusions, and the distinctions they enabled, than with their surreptitious returns. Following from this, as a heuristic strategy, I will try to understand how Boyle and Co. used and reacted to, repressed and cathected, that which they sought to exclude. By charting the movements of exile and return across the contested frontiers of class, gender and faith, truth and lies, authenticity and performance, we can, I believe, fruitfully complicate our understandings of both the social history of truth, and the social history of our ‘post-truth’ predicament.

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This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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Editor's note

Steven Shapin's A Social History of Truth: Civility and Science in Seventeenth-Century England (SHOT) (1994) is perhaps the most frequently cited articulation of constructivist history of science. Building on Leviathan and the Air-Pump: Hobbes, Boyle, and the Experimental Life (1985), co-authored with Simon Schaffer, it established gentlemanly honour and trust as the basis of epistemological certainty in the early modern period – and arguably beyond. SHOT was its generation's counterpunch to scientific hubris: the experimental method is not self-evidently correct, it argued, but was developed as a specific, historical solution to a social problem.

Since the publication of SHOT, the science wars have hotted up and cooled down again. The planet, meanwhile, has continued to warm ineluctably, and professionally sceptical historians of science of the 1990s – Bruno Latour prominent amongst them – have been obliged to make their peace with the facts of climatology. The history of science is no longer principally thought of as some kind of antidote to scientism – but has not entirely settled into a new mode, either.

The past three years have been a rollercoaster of facts and fictions, trust and mistrust, packed with enough history and futurology to fill a hundred years, never mind the quarter-century since SHOT was published. They provide the backdrop and the motivation to revisit Shapin's monograph on the twenty-fifth anniversary of its publication, to ask how our historiography has developed since his crucial insights, and what Shapin and his historical offspring might have to say in these heated days. BJHS invited Michael Wintroub, winner of the 2018 BSHS Pickstone Prize for best scholarly book for his The Voyage of Thought: Navigating Knowledge across the Sixteenth-Century World (2017), to address these questions. Though his Voyage of Thought pushes social epistemology further back in time and further afield than Restoration England, and makes it stranger, we can nevertheless discern a tangible connection between the questions it grapples with in following a voyage of French merchants to Sumatra in 1529 and those interrogated by Steven Shapin in his groundbreaking 1994 work on trust and truth in the gentlemanly culture and scientific practice of seventeenth-century England.

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1 A touchstone: ‘a test, a trial; a criterion or reference point by which something is assessed, judged, or recognized’. OED.

2 Shapin anticipated this critique, as he said, ‘Reality cannot serve its justificatory function unless the relevant culture recognizes it as separate from, and set above, the behavior of those who report about it and constitute our knowledge of it. That is why, as I noted at the outset of this book, there is such intense resistance to the very idea of a social history or sociology of truth’. Steven Shapin, A Social History of Truth: Civility and Science in Seventeenth-Century England, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1994, pp. 350–351.

3 Kellyanne Conway, Meet the Press, 22 January 2017, at www.youtube.com/watch?v=VSrEEDQgFc8.

4 Rudy Giuliani, Meet the Press, 19 August 2018, at www.youtube.com/watch?v=CljsZ7lgbtw.

8 Richard Hofstadter, ‘The paranoid style in American politics’, Harper's Magazine, November 1964, pp. 77–86.

10 Ron Suskind, ‘Faith, certainty and the presidency of George W. Bush’, New York Times Magazine, 17 October 2004.

12 This, in any case, seems to be the judgement of Kurt Anderson, who labels his witch's brew of ‘post-positivists, poststructuralists, social constructivists, post-empiricists, epistemic relativists, cognitive relativists, descriptive relativists’ as useful idiots of the extreme right. See his ‘How America lost its mind’, The Atlantic, September 2017. For Bruno Latour's admission of culpability see ‘Why has critique run out of steam? From matters of fact to matters of concern’, Critical Inquiry (2004) 30(2), pp. 225–248.

13 Shapin, Steven and Schaffer, Simon, Leviathan and the Air-Pump: Hobbes, Boyle, and the Experimental Life, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1988, p. 344.

14 Latour, Bruno, We Have Never Been Modern, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012, p. 27.

15 With regard to the exclusion of women, see Shapin, op. cit. (2), pp. 86 ff. and 355–408. Gentle culture, Shapin explains, ‘was a set of resources put to work in specific actions, in specific settings, and for specific purposes. Given the flux and complexity of practical social action in early modern society, the categories indicated by truthfulness and lying were widely qualified, graded, and supplemented. This was a culture that possessed a vocabulary for speaking about veracity and mendacity that was as rich as it was ambiguous and contested’. See Shapin, op. cit. (2), p. 103.

16 Shapin, op. cit. (2), for example pp. 93–95.

17 As Shapin puts this, ‘Just as the ideal gentleman's integrity and independence were used to account for and enjoin his truthfulness, so the unreliable truthfulness of others was pervasively referred to their constrained circumstances. Those whose placement in society rendered them dependent upon others, whose actions were at others’ bidding, or who were so placed as to need relative advantage were for these reasons deemed liable to misrepresent real states of affairs – what they were actually thinking, what their intentions were with respect to future action, how matters stood in the world. Their word might not be relied upon’. Shapin, op. cit. (2), p. 86.

18 Shapin, op. cit. (2), pp. 106–110.

19 Tasso puts this well: ‘the man who enters into discussions at court with a desire to win by any means and against everyone, without consideration of time or place, is more attracted by intellectual glory than by courtly honour. For not only in debate but in every activity, the courtier must compete by yielding’. Torquato Tasso, Tasso's Dialogues (trans. C. Lord and D. Trafton), Los Angeles and Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982, p. 183. Also see Shapin, op. cit. (2), p. 113; and John Harwood, The Early Essays and Ethics of Robert Boyle, Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1991, p. xxxviii.

20 Shapin, op. cit. (2), for example p. 121.

21 Shapin, op. cit. (2), p. 125, my emphasis.

22 Shapin, op. cit. (2), pp. 113–114.

23 Canny, Nicolas, The Upstart Earl: A Study of the Social and Mental World of Richard Boyle First Earl of Cork 1566–1643, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982, pp. 4243. See Shapin, op. cit. (2), pp. 132–133.

24 For example Shapin, op. cit. (2), p. 64.

25 Shapin, op. cit. (2), pp. 58–63 ff.

26 Indeed, for every gentlemanly member of the early Royal Society whose family lineage could be traced back generations, such as John Aubrey, George Berkeley and William Cavendish, there were men like William Petty, the son of a clothier; Abraham Hill, the son of a merchant; Elias Ashmole, the son of a saddler; Issac Barrow, the son of a linen draper; John Wilkins, the son of a goldsmith; and Thomas Sprat, the son of a poor parish curate.

27 Shakespeare, William, Twelfth Night or What You Will, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003, Act 3, scene i: 20–21.

28 Castiglione, Baldassare, The Book of the Courtier, From the Italian of Count Baldassare Castiglione: Done into English by Sir Thomas Hoby, Anno 1561, London: David Nutt, 1900, p. 41. ‘Malapertness’: impudent, bold or clever (saucy) speech; it also referred to expertise (pert/expertus).

29 ‘The practical task taken up by the courtesy literature was, on the one hand, to enjoin the gentleman not to lie or dissimulate, to remind him of the consequences of doing so, to inform him of the cost of impugning the veracity of other gentlemen's relations, and, on the other, to situate the injunction not to lie in a system of generally understood and approved ethical principles regulating the happy and virtuous life and justifying the gentle condition’. Shapin, op. cit. (2), p. 70.

30 Shapin, op. cit. (2), p. 114, my emphasis.

31 As Bryson, Anne, From Courtesy to Civility: Changing Codes of Conduct in Early Modern England, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998, p. 224, astutely observed, ‘The notion of gentlemanly “society” as a fluid world of potentially competitive individuals, whose harmonious coexistence must be secured by “convention”, was already encoded in the theory and practice of seventeenth-century “civility” at the time when political theorists began to extend this model of association to society as a whole. From the evidence of writing on manners, it developed at least partly as a response and a solution to the problem posed by ethical unease about the emptiness of the proliferating “ceremonies” which upheld the social order’. Could it have been that writers of court literature were ‘Hobbesian’ (avant la lettre)?

32 Ellis, Clement, The gentile sinner, or, Englands brave gentleman characterized in a letter to a friend both as he is and as he should be, Oxford: Printed by Henry Hall, for Edward and Iohn Forrest, 1660, p. 16.

33 Wycherley, William, The Country Wife, London: Printed for Thomas Dring, 1675, p. 8.

34 Ellis, op. cit. (32), 9.

35 Bryson, op. cit. (31), pp. 241–242, makes a similar point: ‘The achievement and enactment of gentlemanly solidarity in the reproduction of an exclusive social world in court and city demanded an “urbane” accommodation to others of like status. But the world of “civil conversation” was also the milieu of competition for prestige and reputation, where the gentleman had constantly to maintain, protect, and enhance his status in defensive or assertive social display. Manners which referred to a “civil” hierarchy and a harmonious social order had also to be vehicles for the individual's efforts to assert honour and to navigate a highly competitive society. Such tensions were manifest in the irony and cynicism which accompanied the proliferation of social ceremonies and compliments. They also meant that ideals of civility were double-edged in their relation to political order’.

36 Bacon, Francis, The Essayes Or Counsels, Civill and Morall (ed. Kiernan, M.), Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000, p. 22.

37 Guazzo, Stefano, The ciuile conuersation of M. Stephen Guazzo (tr. Barth. Yong), London: Thomas East, 1586, 34r.

38 Guazzo, op. cit. (37), 34v.

39 See Johnson, J.H., Venice Incognito: Masks in the Serene Republic, Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2017, p. 89.

40 Tasso, op. cit. (19), p. 175.

41 On the ‘new men’ see Bacon, op. cit. (36), pp. 27–31.

42 See, for example, Shapin, op. cit. (2), p. 147: ‘he who possessed gentility by birth was free of the necessity of laboring to secure it’.

43 Canny, op. cit. (23), p. 16.

44 See, for example, Boyle's ‘unself-conscious condemnation of the purchase of titles’ quoted in Shapin, op. cit. (2), p. 133 n. 14. As Shapin points out, ‘despite his father's pedigree, Boyle saw no reason to dispute the role played by blood and birth in producing the circumstances in which gentility might be expressed’. Shapin, op. cit. (2), p. 146. For a different view see Michael Hunter's perceptive comments, Robert Boyle, 1627–91: Scrupulosity and Science, London: Boydell & Brewer, 2000, p. 62.

45 Boyle, Robert, Occasional Reflections upon Several Svbiects. Whereto is premis'd A Discourse About such kind of Thoughts, London: W. Wilson for Henry Herringman, 1665, p. 155.

46 Shapin, op. cit. (2), p. 10. As George Mackenzie put it in his 1656 Moral Essay Preferring Solitude: ‘What an ugly and ungentle Vice Dissimulation is, seeing that he is no Gentleman who would not choise rather to die, or starve, then to be thought false’. Quoted in Shapin, op. cit. (2), p. 85. Regarding the unacknowledged lie, on the other hand, the plot of Machiavelli's Mandragola comes to mind.

47 de Montaigne, Michel, The Complete Essays (tr. and ed. Screech, M.A.), London and New York: Penguin Books, 1960, ‘On Giving the Lie’, p. 756.

48 As Shapin aptly puts this, ‘a selfless self was a free actor in the world of knowledge; all others counted as constrained’. Shapin, op. cit. (2), for example pp. 182, 191, 222–223.

49 John Evelyn's effusive praise comes to mind; see Shapin, op. cit. (2), p. 192. Shapin acknowledges that for many ‘Restoration court wits and satirists Boyle was a figure of fun’. See Shapin, op. cit. (2), p. 193.

50 Swift, Jonathan, Hints Toward an Essay on Conversation, London, 1712, p. 237. See Thomas, Keith, In Pursuit of Civility: Manners and Civilization in Early Modern England, Waltham, MA: Brandeis University Press, 2018, p. 36; Cohen, Michele, Fashioning Masculinity: National Identity and Language in the Eighteenth Century, London and New York: Routledge, 1996, p. 41; Carter, Philip, Men and the Emergence of Polite Society, Britain 1660–1800, London and New York: Routledge, 2014, pp. 57; and Barker-Benfield, G.J., The Culture of Sensibility: Sex and Society in Eighteenth-Century Britain, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1996.

51 Castiglione, op. cit. (28), p. 52.

52 I describe a similar process in sixteenth-century France in ‘Civilizing the savage and making a king: the Royal Entry Festival of Henri II (Rouen, 1550)’, Sixteenth Century Journal (1998), 29, pp. 467–496; and in A Savage Mirror: Power, Identity and Knowledge in Early Modern France, Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2006.

53 See, for example, Parker, Patricia, ‘On the tongue: cross gendering, effeminacy, and the art of words’, Style (1989), 23(3), pp. 445465; Wintroub, Michael, ‘Words, things and a womanly king’, French Historical Studies (2005) 28(3), pp. 387413; as Joseph Swetnam said, ‘All beasts by man are made tame, but a womans tongue will neuer be lame; it is but a small thing, and seldome seene, but it is often heard, to the terror and vtter confusion of many a man’. Joseph Swetnam, The araignment of leuud, idle, froward, and vnconstant women, London: Printed by George Purslowe for Thomas Archer, 1615, p. 40.

54 Meurier, Gabriel, Thresor de sentences dores et argentes, Cologne: François Le Febvre, imprimeur genevois, 1617, pp. 139140; and Shapin, op. cit. (2), p. 65.

55 Braithwaite, Richard, The English gentleman containing sundry excellent rules or exquisite observations, tending to direction of every gentleman, of selecter ranke and qualitie; how to demeane or accommodate himselfe in the manage of publike or private affaires, London: Printed by Iohn Haviland, 1630, n.p.

56 Glanville, Joseph, address to the Royal Society, in Scepsis Scientifica: Or, Confest Ignorance, the Way to Science; in an Essay of the Vanity of Dogmatizing and Confident Opinion, London: Kegan Paul, Trench & Co., 1885, p. lxv. Also see Ellis, op. cit. (32), p. 114.

57 Swetnam, op. cit. (53), p. 16.

58 The reformation of elite male culture on the basis of new forms of mannered and literate exclusivity cannot be viewed as distinct from processes of colonization by which women were ‘effeminized’, negatively as deceitful and cunning performers, positively as modest, chaste and timid.

59 Woolley, Hannah, The gentlewomans companion; or, A guide to the female sex containing directions of behaviour, in all places, companies, relations, and conditions, London: Printed by A. Maxwell, 1673, p. 47.

60 It wasn't just women who were condemned for their dishonesty and wicked dissimulations, but, as Shapin points out, Italians; e.g. critiques of courtliness were deflected onto Italians who were ‘bred up to flatter, deceive, pander, backbite, and quarrel. Italian influence as corrupting honest English manners, including plainness, sincerity, directness, simplicity, and openness’. To the Italians we could also add the French, who were similarly condemned in England for their pernicious effeminacy. In general, the view expressed by John Evelyn, that the Restoration court was ‘a Stage of continual Masquerade … where the art of dissimulation … is avowed’, had wide and consequential currency. See Shapin, op. cit. (2), pp. 95–101, 100.

61 Thomas Sprat, The History of the Royal Society of London, for the Improving of Natural Knowledge, London: Printed by T. R. for I. Martyn at the Bell without Temple-bar, and I. Allestry at the Rose and Crown in Duck-lane, Printers to the Royal Society, 1667, p. 129.

62 See, for example, Haraway, Donna, Modest_Witness@Second_Millennium. FemaleMan_Meets_OncoMouse: Feminism and Technoscience, New York: Psychology Press, 1997, pp. 2930; and Potter, Elizabeth, Gender and Boyle's Law of Gases, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2000.

63 Regarding the libertine – gallant – reaction see Bryson, op. cit. (31), pp. 268 ff.

64 Montaigne, op. cit. (47), ‘On Conversation’, p. 1046.

65 Montaigne, op. cit. (47), ‘On Conversation’, p. 1045.

66 In a sense, his view was much closer to that of Francis Bacon, who compared his natural philosophy to a hunt (with all its chivalric and manly associations). See, for example, Bacon, Francis, De Sapientia Veterum, in The Works of Francis Bacon (ed. Spedding, J., Ellis, R. and Heath, D.), Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011, vol. 6, and Eamon, William, Science and the Secrets of Nature: Books of Secrets in Medieval and Early Modern Culture, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996, pp. 269300.

67 Corneille's Le Cid comes to mind, as do the heroic dramas written by Robert Boyle's own brother, Roger, 1st Earl of Orrery, Lord Broghill. The most beautiful example of this can be found in the New World adventures of Catalina de Erauso (1592–1650); see De Erauso's memoir published in translation by Stepto, M. and Stepto, G., Lieutenant Nun: Memoir of a Basque Transvestite in the New World, Boston: Beacon Press, 1996.

68 Sprat, op. cit. (61), p. 113.

69 Locke, John, Some Thoughts Concerning Education, London: Cambridge University Press, 1892, p. 71.

70 Swift, Jonathan, A Letter to a Young Gentleman, 2nd edn, London: Printed for J. Roberts 1721, pp. 910.

71 Indeed, the study – and systematization – of eloquence, grammar and courtesy were deeply implicated in the development and articulation of collecting and display practices and vice versa. See Wintroub, A Savage Mirror, op. cit. (52), Chapter 8; see Michael Wintroub, The Voyage of Thought: Navigating Knowledge across the Sixteenth-Century World, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017, esp. Chapter 5.

72 Shapin, op. cit. (2), pp. 302–303, original emphasis.

73 Antoine de Guevera was thus to describe life at court in terms resonant with Boyle's description of the glow worm's Crystalline Prison a century later; every word uttered by the courtier, he said, was to be ‘noted’, every pace ‘measured’, every meal ‘counted’, every pleasure ‘indicted’, every possession ‘noted’, every demand (to the Prince) ‘registered’, every fault ‘tabulated’, and every sin ‘published’. See Antoine de Guevara, Le Favori de court, contenant plusieurs advertissemens et bonnes doctrines, pour les favoris des princes et autres signeurs … Nouvellement traduit d'espaignol en françois, par Maistre Jaques de Rochemore, Anvers: C. Plantin, 1557, p. 135 (r).

74 Perhaps we should rethink the value of symmetry as a methodological prescriptive in so far as it reifies analytic distinctions that tend to force nature and society, true and false, into absolutes rather than blurred interactions across borders that are always in dispute.

75 See Shapin, op. cit. (2), Chapters 2 and 3.

76 Sprat, op. cit. (61), p. 409.

77 Hooke, Robert, Posthumous Works of Robert Hooke, ed. Waller, Richard, London: Frank Cass & Co., 1971, p. 338.

78 Sprat, op. cit. (61), p. 415.

79 Sprat, op. cit. (61), pp. 409–410.

80 Sprat, op. cit. (61), p. 79. See, for example, Shapin, op. cit. (2), p. 94 n. 137.

81 Swift, for example, condemned the feigned erudition of the ‘tribe of Professors’ in contrast to the ‘everyman’ who possessed real and valuable knowledge. As he put it: ‘Professors in most Arts and Sciences, are generally the worst qualified to explain their Meanings to those who are not of their Tribe: A common Farmer shall make you understand in three Words, that his Foot is out of Joint, or his Collar-bone broken, wherein a Surgeon, after a hundred terms of Art, if you are not a Scholar, shall leave you to seek. It is frequently the same case in Law, Physick, and even many of the meaner Arts’. Swift, op. cit. (70), p. 7.

82 Montaigne, op. cit. (47), ‘On Cannibals’, p. 231.

83 Montaigne, op. cit. (47), ‘On Cannibals’, p. 231.

84 Quoted in Shapin, op. cit. (2), p. 180.

85 Boyle, Robert, The Christian virtuoso shewing that by being addicted to experimental philosophy, a man is rather assisted than indisposed to be a good Christian, London: Printed by Edw. Jones, 1690, p. 90.

86 On Boyle's allergies to libertinage and the rhetorical excess of his contemporaries see Shapin, op. cit. (2), pp. 148–151.

87 Quoted in Shapin, op. cit. (2), p. 190; see also 375.

88 Shapin, op. cit. (2), p. 90.

89 Shapin, op. cit. (2), pp. 395–396.

90 Shapin, op. cit. (2), pp. 93 ff.

91 Shapin, op. cit. (2), p. 382.

92 Or getting them ‘dirty’, but only if, and when, it was desired, e.g. as a condition of their freedom as gentlemen and their aspirations as experimental philosophers. As Sprat put this, men of freer lives ‘do not approach those Trades, as their dull, and unavoidable, and perpetual employments, but as their Diversions’. Quoted in Shapin, op. cit. (2), p. 397.

93 Montaigne, op. cit. (47), ‘That it is Folly to Measure Truth and Error by our own Capacity’, pp. 200–202.

94 Montaigne, op. cit. (47), ‘On Presumption’, p. 750.

95 Boyle, A Disquisition about the Final Causes of Natural Things, London: printed by H.C. for John Taylor, 1688, p. 96.

96 On the gendered dimensions of experimental philosopher's subservience to – and his power over – Nature see Evelyn Fox Keller, Reflections on Gender and Science, New Haven, CT and London: Yale University Press, 1995, Chapter 2.

97 As charted, for example, within the ‘genre’ of courtesy literature and satire, of course, but also as religious enthusiasm, millenarianism and radical egalitarianism. Indeed, such knowledge often contributed to the problems it was putatively meant to solve. As John Dewey said, ‘Every thinker puts some portion of an apparently stable world in peril, and no one can wholly predict what will emerge in its place’. Quoted in Richard Hofstadter, Anti-intellectualism in American Life, New York: Knopf, 1962, p. 45.

98 Shakespeare, op. cit. (27), Act 4, scene i: 7.

99 Boyle, op. cit. (45), p. 47.

100 Boyle, Robert, A Free Enquiry into the vulgarly receiv'd Notion of Nature, London: Printed by H. Clark for John Taylor, 1685, p. 245. According to Shapin, ‘both Bacon and Boyle evidently belong within a long tradition of nominalist sentiment about the relationship between ontology and cultural classifications’. Shapin, op. cit. (2), p. 349. See, for example, McGuire, J.E., ‘Boyle's conception of nature’, Journal of the History of Ideas (1972) 33(4), pp. 524542; Oakley, Francis, ‘Jacobean political theology: the absolute and ordinary powers of the king’, Journal of the History of Ideas (1968) 29(3), pp. 323346, Oakley, ‘The absolute and ordained power of god and king in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries: philosophy, science, politics, and law’, Journal of the History of Ideas (1998) 59(4), pp. 669690. With regard to the self-imposed constraints on God's power see Boyle, Robert, Some considerations about the reconcileableness, London: Printed by T.N. for H. Herringman, 1675, pp. 159, 162.

101 See Swift, op. cit. (50).

102 The relationship between nominalism, casuistry and literatures of courtesy perhaps points to an unexpected connection between SHOT and Michael Hunter's work. See Hunter, op. cit. (44), for example p. 70.

103 See, for example, Robert Boyle, Some considerations, op. cit. (100), pp. 21–22.

104 As the complete title of the Christian Virtuoso reads: THE Christian Virutoso: SHEWING, That by being addicted to Experimental Philosophy, a Man is rather Assisted, than Indisposed, to be a Good Christian.

105 On Boyle's ‘creative respecification of gentlemanly identity’ see Shapin, op. cit. (2), p. 189. Boyle mixed up his experimental philosophy with his theology and his notions of civility in any number of ways, but amongst the most important was that they were all rooted in the certainty that universals ought to be abandoned in favour of the probability of particulars (e.g. matters of fact), and that moral knowledge ought to be modelled on recognizable forms of right or wrong acting rather than on essences. This would seem to point to a fundamental convergence between nominalism and civility.

106 Harwood, op. cit. (19), p. 192.

107 Boyle, op. cit. (85), pp. 73–74.

108 Sprat, op. cit. (61), p. 257.

109 See, for example, Shapin, op. cit. (2), p. 395.

110 Bryson, op. cit. (31), p. 268.

111 See Hofstadter, op. cit. (97), p. 57.

112 Dell, William, The tryal of spirits both in teachers & hearers, London: Printed for Giles Calvert, 1660, p. 106.

113 Hofstadter, op. cit. (97), p. 58 n. 4.

114 See, for example, Martin, Dennis, ‘Schools of the prophets: shepherds and scholars in New England Puritanism’, Historical Reflections/Réflexions historiques (1978) 5(1), pp. 4180, and Solt, Leo, ‘Anti-intellectualism in the Puritan revolution’, Church History (1956) 25(4), pp. 306316.

115 See, for example, Hunter, op. cit. (44), pp. 56–57.

116 On Boyle's ‘excessive’ study and his ‘hypochondria’ see Shapin, op. cit. (2), p. 155.

117 Wilkins, John, Ecclesiastes, or a Discourse concerning the Gift of Preaching as it falls under the Rules of Art, London: Printed by T.R. and E.M. for Samuel Gellibrand, 1646, p. 72, quoted in Jones, Richard F., ‘Science and English prose style in the third quarter of the seventeenth century’, PMLA (1930) 45(4), pp. 9771009, 979–980, my emphasis.

118 Turnbull, G.H., ‘Samuel Hartlib's influence on the early history of the Royal Society’, Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London (1953) 10(2), pp. 101130, 113 n. 62.

119 Hofstadter, op. cit. (97), p. 55.

120 Hofstadter, op. cit. (97), p. 64.

121 Shapin, op. cit. (2), p. 374; for an opposing point of view see Thomas Shadwell's The Virtuoso A comedy, acted at the Duke's Theatre, London: printed by T.N. for Henry Herringman, 1676. See also Hofstadter, op. cit. (97), for example p. 46.

122 Petty, William, The advice of W.P. to Mr. Samuel Hartlib for the advancement of some particular parts of learning, London, 1647, n.p. (my emphasis).

Editor's note

Steven Shapin's A Social History of Truth: Civility and Science in Seventeenth-Century England (SHOT) (1994) is perhaps the most frequently cited articulation of constructivist history of science. Building on Leviathan and the Air-Pump: Hobbes, Boyle, and the Experimental Life (1985), co-authored with Simon Schaffer, it established gentlemanly honour and trust as the basis of epistemological certainty in the early modern period – and arguably beyond. SHOT was its generation's counterpunch to scientific hubris: the experimental method is not self-evidently correct, it argued, but was developed as a specific, historical solution to a social problem.

Since the publication of SHOT, the science wars have hotted up and cooled down again. The planet, meanwhile, has continued to warm ineluctably, and professionally sceptical historians of science of the 1990s – Bruno Latour prominent amongst them – have been obliged to make their peace with the facts of climatology. The history of science is no longer principally thought of as some kind of antidote to scientism – but has not entirely settled into a new mode, either.

The past three years have been a rollercoaster of facts and fictions, trust and mistrust, packed with enough history and futurology to fill a hundred years, never mind the quarter-century since SHOT was published. They provide the backdrop and the motivation to revisit Shapin's monograph on the twenty-fifth anniversary of its publication, to ask how our historiography has developed since his crucial insights, and what Shapin and his historical offspring might have to say in these heated days. BJHS invited Michael Wintroub, winner of the 2018 BSHS Pickstone Prize for best scholarly book for his The Voyage of Thought: Navigating Knowledge across the Sixteenth-Century World (2017), to address these questions. Though his Voyage of Thought pushes social epistemology further back in time and further afield than Restoration England, and makes it stranger, we can nevertheless discern a tangible connection between the questions it grapples with in following a voyage of French merchants to Sumatra in 1529 and those interrogated by Steven Shapin in his groundbreaking 1994 work on trust and truth in the gentlemanly culture and scientific practice of seventeenth-century England.

The pharmakon of ‘If’: working with Steven Shapin's A Social History of Truth

  • MICHAEL WINTROUB (a1)

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