About the book:
One of the most important works in the history of science.
The Sceptical Chymist: or Chymico-Physical Doubts & Paradoxes is the title of a book by Robert Boyle, published in London in 1661. In the form of a dialogue, the Sceptical Chymist presented Boyle’s hypothesis that matter consisted of atoms and clusters of atoms in motion and that every phenomenon was the result of collisions of particles in motion. For these reasons Robert Boyle has been called the founder of modern chemistry.
The first part begins with 5 friends (Carneades the host and the Skeptic, Philoponus the Chymist, Themistius the Aristotelian, Eleutherius the impartial Judge, and an unnamed narrator) meeting in Carneades’s garden and chatting about the constituents of the mixed bodies.
Boyle first argued that fire is not a universal and sufficient analyzer of dividing all bodies into their elements, contrary to Jean Beguin and Joseph Duchesne. To prove this he turned for support to Jan Baptist van Helmont whose Alkahest was reputed to be a universal analyzer.
Boyle rejected the Aristotelian theory of the four elements (earth, air, fire, and water) and also the three principles (salt, sulfur, and mercury) proposed by Paracelsus. After discussing the classical elements and chemical principles in the first five parts of the book, in the sixth part Boyle defines chemical element in a manner that approaches more closely to the modern concept:
I now mean by Elements, as those Chymists that speak plainest do by their Principles, certain Primitive and Simple, or perfectly unmingled bodies; which not being made of any other bodies, or of one another, are the Ingredients of all those call’d perfectly mixt Bodies are immediately compounded, and into which they are ultimately resolved.
However, Boyle denied that any known material substances correspond to such “perfectly unmingled bodies.” In his view, all known materials were compounds, even such substances as gold, silver, lead, sulfur, and carbon.
About the author:
Robert William Boyle (25 January 1627 – 31 December 1691) was an Anglo-Irish natural philosopher, chemist, physicist and inventor born in Lismore, County Waterford, Ireland. Boyle is largely regarded today as the first modern chemist, and therefore one of the founders of modern chemistry, and one of the pioneers of modern experimental scientific method. He is best known for Boyle’s law, which describes the inversely proportional relationship between the absolute pressure and volume of a gas, if the temperature is kept constant within a closed system. Among his works, The Sceptical Chymist is seen as a cornerstone book in the field of chemistry. He was a devout and pious Anglican and is noted for his writings in theology.