The scientists of the seventeenth-century Royal Society frequently claimed that nature was the product of god’s designing agency, both beautiful and perfectly suited to its purposes. In spite of this, scholars still generally assume that they pursued a more or less modern brand of empiricism, seeking above all to represent the world as they really found it. Those scholars dismiss the Society’s interest in the design argument as an attempt to deflect accusations of religious impropriety, little relevant to the work of scientific inquiry. This talk will offer a new perspective on the emergence of the modern empirical sciences. Against narratives that focus on the disciplining of experience and the rise of objectivity, I will argue that the characteristically subjective concerns of aesthetic experience were central to the practices of empiricism in the seventeenth century.
Alexander Wragge-Morley works on the history of science in early modern Europe, focusing in particular on Britain in the period 1650-1750. He is currently working on two projects, both of which concern the place of different kinds of experience – bodily, affective and aesthetic – in the emergence of the empirical sciences. Wragge-Morley holds a Ph.D. in the history and philosophy of science from the University of Cambridge. He has previously taught at the University of Oxford, New York University and University College London, and has held a postdoctoral fellowship jointly at the California Institute of Technology and The Huntington Library.