A free enquiry into the vulgarly receiv'd notion of nature made in an essay address'd to a friend
Boyle, Robert, 1627-1691.
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I Have often wonder'd, that, in so Inquisitive an Age as This, among those many Learned Men, that have with much Free∣dom, as well as Acuteness, written of the Works of Na∣ture, (as They call Them,) and some of Them of the Principles too, I have not met with any, that has made it his business to write of Nature Herself. This will perhaps hereafter be Page  [unnumbered] thought such an Omission, as if, in giving an Account of the Political Estate of a Kingdom, One should Treat largely of the Civil Jud∣ges, Military Officers, and other Subordinate Ma∣gistrates, and of the par∣ticular Ranks and Orders of Inferior Subjects and Plebeians, but should be silent of the Prerogatives and Ways of Administra∣tion of the King; or, (to use a Comparison more suitable to the Subject,) as if One should particu∣larly treat of the Barrel, Wheels, String, Ballance, Index, and other Parts of a Watch, without exami∣ning Page  [unnumbered] the Nature of the Spring, that sets all These a moving. When I say this, I do not forget, that the Word Nature is every where to be met with in the Writings of Physiolo∣gers. But, though they frequently employ the Word, they seem not to have much consider'd, what Notion ought to be fram'd of the Thing, which they suppose and admire, and upon Occasion celebrate, but do not call in Question or discuss. Weighing there∣fore with my self, of what great Moment the fra∣ming a right or a wrong Idea of Nature must be, in Page  [unnumbered] Reference both to the Speculative and Practical Part of Physiology; I judg'd it very well worth the while, to make, with Philosophical Freedom, a serious Enquiry into the Vulgarly Receiv'd Notion of Nature; that, if it appeared well-grounded, I might have the Rational Satisfaction of not having acquiesc'd in It, till, after a previous Examen; if I should find it confus'd and ambiguous, I might endea∣vour to remedy that In∣convenience, by distin∣guishing the Acceptions of the Word; if I found it dubious as to its Truth, I Page  [unnumbered] might be shy in trusting too much to a distrusted Principle; and, if I found erroneous, I might avoid the raising Superstructures of my Own, or relying on those of Others, that must owe their Stability to an unsound and deceitful Foundation. And, be∣cause many Atheists ascribe so much to Nature, that they think it needless to have Recourse to a Deity, for the giving an Account of the Phaenomena of the Universe: And, on the other side, very many Theists seem to think the commonly Received No∣tion of Nature, little less, Page  [unnumbered] than necessary to the Proof of the Existence and Pro∣vidence of God; I, who differ from both these Par∣ties, and yet think every true Theist, and much more every true Christian, ought to be much con∣cerned for Truths, that have so powerful an In∣fluence on Religion, thought my self, for Its sake, ob∣lig'd to consider this Mat∣ter, both with the more Attention and with regard to Religion.

And yet, being to write this Treatise as a Physiologer, not a Christian, I could not rationally build any po∣sitive Doctrine upon mere Page  [unnumbered]Revelation, which would have been judg'd a Foreign Principle in this Enquiry. Only, since the Person, I intentionally address'd my Thoughts to, under the Name of Eleutherius, was a good Christian, I held it not impertinent, now and then, upon the by, to intimate something to prevent or remove some Scruples, that I thought he might have, on the score (I say not of Natu∣ral Theology, for That is almost directly pertinent, but) of the Christian Faith. But these Passa∣ges are very few, and but transiently touch'd upon.

Page  [unnumbered] Since the Reader will be told by and by both That, and Why the Pa∣pers, that make up the following Treatise, were not written in one con∣tinued Series of Times, but many Years were inter∣pos'd between the Writing of some of Them, and that of Those which precede and follow Them: I hope it will be thought but a venial Fault, if the Con∣texture of the whole Dis∣course do not appear so Uniform, nor all the Con∣nections of its Parts so apt and close, as, if no Papers had been lost and supply'd, might reasonably be look'd for.

Page  [unnumbered] I expect the Novelty of divers of the Sentiments and Reasonings, propos'd in the following Discourse, will be surprising, and en∣cline Many to look upon the Author as a bold Man, and much addicted to Pa∣radoxes. But, having for∣merly, in a distinct Essay, deliver'd my Thoughts a∣bout Paradoxes in general, I shall not now ingage in that Subject, but confine my self to what concerns the ensuing Paper. I say then, in short, That in an Opinion, I look upon its being New or Antient, and its being Singular or common∣ly Receiv'd, as Things that Page  [unnumbered] are but Extrinsical to its be∣ing true or false. And, as I would never reject a Truth, for being generaly Known or Receiv'd, so will I not conclude an Opinion to be a Truth, merely because great Numbers have thought it to be so; nor think an Opinion Erroneous, because 'tis not yet Known to Ma∣ny, or because it opposes a Tenent embrac'd by Ma∣ny. For I am wont to judge of Opinions, as of Coins: I consider much less in any One, that I am to Receive, whose Inscription it bears, than what Metal 'tis made of. 'Tis indifferent enough to me, whether 'twas Page  [unnumbered] Stamp'd many Years or A∣ges since, or came but Ye∣sterday from the Mint. Nor do I regard through how many, or how few, Hands it has pass'd for Cur∣rent, provided I know by the Touch-stone, or any sure Tryal, purposely made, whether or no it be genu∣ine, and does or does not deserve to have been Cur∣rant. For, if upon due proof it appears to be Good, its having been long and by Many receiv'd for such, will not tempt me to refuse it. But, if I find it Coun∣terfeit, neither the Princes Image or Inscription, nor its Date (how Antient so∣ever,) Page  [unnumbered] nor the Multitude of Hands, through which it has pass'd unsuspected, will engage me to receive It. And one disfavouring tryal, well made, will much more discredit It with me, than all those specious Things, I have nam'd, can recommend It.

By this Declaration of my Sentiments about Pa∣radoxes in General, I hope it will be thought, that the Motive I had to Question that Notion of Nature, which I dissent from, was not, that this Notion is Vulgarly Re∣ceiv'd. And I have this to say, to make it probable, That I was not ingag'd in Page  [unnumbered] this Controversie, by any Ambition of appearing in Print an Heresiarch in Phi∣losophy, by being the Au∣thor of a strange Doctrine, that the following Di∣scourse was written about the Year 1666. (that is, some Lustres ago,) and that not long after, the Youth, to whom I dictated it, having been inveigled to steal a∣way, unknown to me or his Parents, into the Indies, (whence we never heard of him since,) left the loose Sheets, wherein (and not in a Book) my thoughts had been committed to Paper, very incoherent, by the O∣mission of divers necessary Page  [unnumbered] Passages. Upon which Ac∣count, and my Unwilling∣ness to take the Pains to supply what was wanting, those Papers lay by me ma∣ny Years together neglect∣ed, and almost forgotten; 'till the Curiosity of some Philosophical Heads, that were pleas'd to think they deserv'd another Fate, ob∣lig'd me to tack them toge∣ther, and make up the Gaps that remain'd between their Parts, by retrieving, as well as, after so many Years, my bad Memory was able to do, the Thoughts I some∣times had, pertinent to those purposes. And indeed, when I consider'd of how Page  [unnumbered] vast importance it is in Phi∣losophy, and the Practice of Physick too, to have a right Notion of Nature; and how little the Authority of the generality of Men ought, in so nice and intricate a Sub∣ject, to sway a free and im∣partial Spirit; as I at first thought myself oblig'd, since others had not sav'd me the labour, to make a Free Enquiry into this Noble and Difficult Subject, so I was afterwards the more easily prevail'd with, by those that press'd the Publication of it. With what Success I have made this Attempt, I must leave others to judg. But if I be not much flatter'd, Page  [unnumbered] whatever becomes of the main Attempt, there will be found suggested here and there, in the following Di∣scourse, some Reflections and Explications, that will at least oblige the zealous Assertors of the Vulgar Noti∣on of Nature, to clear up the Doctrine, and speak more distinctly and correctly a∣bout Things that relate to it, than hitherto has been usu∣al. And that will be Fruit enough to recompense the Labour, and justifie the Ti∣tle, of a Free Enquiry. In Pro∣secution of which, since I have been oblig'd to travel in an untrodden Way, with∣out a Guide, 'twill be Page  [unnumbered] thought, I hope, more par∣donable than strange, if, in attempting to discover di∣vers general Mistakes, I be not so happy as to escape falling into some particular Ones myself. And, if among These, I have been so unhap∣py, as to make any that is injurious to Religion, as I did not at all intend it, so, as soon as ever I shall discover it, I shall freely disown it Myself, and pray that it may never mislead Others. What my Performance has been, I have already acknow∣ledg'd that I may be unfit to judg; but, for my Inten∣tions, I may make bold to say, they were, to keep the Page  [unnumbered] Glory of the Divine Author of Things from being u∣surp'd or intrench'd▪ upon by His Creatures, and to make His Works more throughly and solidly un∣derstood, by the Philoso∣phical Studiers of Them.

I do not pretend, and I need not, that every one of the Arguments, I employ in the following Tract, is co∣gent, especially if consider'd as single. For Demonstra∣tive Arguments would be unsuitable to the very Title of my Attempt; since, if about the Receiv'd Notion of Nature, I were furnish'd with unanswerable Rea∣sons, my Discourse ought Page  [unnumbered] to be styl'd, not a Free En∣quiry into the Vulgar Noti∣on of Nature, I consider, but a Confutation of It. And a heap of bare Probabilities may suffice to justifie a Doubt of the Truth of an Opinion, which they can∣not clearly evince to be False. And therefore, if any Man shall think fit to Criti∣cize upon the less Principal or less necessary Parts of this Treatise, perhaps I shall not think my self ob∣lig'd to be concern'd at It. And even, if the main Body of the Discourse itself shall be attack'd from the Press; I, who am neither Young nor Healthy, nor ever made Divinity, Philosophy, or Page  [unnumbered] Physick, my Profession, am not like to oppose him in the same Way: Since, as I ought not to wish, that any Errors of mine (if this Es∣say teach any Such,) should prevail; so, if the Things I have deliver'd be True for the Main, I need not despair but that, in such a Free and Inquisitive Age as Ours, there will be found Gene∣rous Spirits, that will not suffer weighty Truths to be oppress'd, tho' the Propo∣sers of them should, by a∣verseness from Contention, or by want of Time or Health, be themselves kept from defending them. Which I have thought fit to take Notice of in this Page  [unnumbered] Place, that the Truth (if I have been so happy, as to have found and taught It,) may not suffer by my Si∣lence; nor any Reader sur∣mize, that, if I shall leave a Book Unanswered, I there∣by acknowledg it to be Un∣answerable. But This re∣gards only the main Sub∣stance of our Essay, not the Order or Disposition of the Parts: Since, if any shall censure That, I shall not quarrel with him about It. For indeed, considering in how preposterous an Order the Pa∣pers, I have here tack'd to∣gether, came to Hand; and how many Things are upon that score unduly plac'd, I shall not only be content, Page  [unnumbered] but must desire, to have this Rhapsody, of my own loose Papers, look'd upon but as an Apparatus, or Collection of Materials, in order to [what I well know this maim'd and confus'd Essay is not,] a compleat and re∣gular Discourse. Yet (to conclude,) I thought, that the affording even of a lit∣tle Light, in a Subject so Dark and so very Impor∣tant, might keep an Essay from being useless; and that to fall short of Demonstration would prove a pardonable Fault, in a Discourse, that pretends not to Dogmatize, but only to make an Enquiry.

Sept. 29, 1682.