Robert Boyle's air-pump experiments in 1659 provoked a lively debate over the possibility of a vacuum. The air-pump, a complicated and expensive device, became an emblem of the new experimental science that was promoted by the Royal Society. However, the philosopher Thomas Hobbes challenged both the validity of Boyle’s experiment and the philosophical foundations of this new approach to science. In their controversial book Leviathan and the Air-Pump (1985) Steven Shapin and Simon Schaffer took up Hobbes’s case, arguing that experimental findings depend for their validity on the scientific culture in which they are made.
Here we share highlights of the event where David Wootton (Anniversary Professor of History, University of York) presents a new view of the dispute between Boyle and Hobbes, with a response by Robert Boyle's biographer Michael Hunter (Emeritus Professor of History, Birkbeck). The discussion is introduced by Ritchie Robertson (Taylor Professor of the German, University of Oxford).