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Locke, Bacon and Natural History

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This paper argues that the construction of natural histories, as advocated by Francis Bacon, played a central role in John Locke's conception of method in natural philosophy. It presents new evidence in support of John Yolton's claim that "the emphasis upon compiling natural histories of bodies ... was the chief aspect of the Royal Society's programme that attracted Locke, and from which we need to understand his science of nature". Locke's exposure to the natural philosophy of Robert Boyle, the medical philosophy of Thomas Sydenham, his interest in travel literature and his conception of the division of the sciences are examined. From this survey, a cumulative case is presented which establishes, independently of an in-depth exegesis of his Essay Concerning Human Understanding, the central role for Locke of the construction of natural histories in natural philosophy.

Affiliations: 1: University of Sydney


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