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Indiana University Press
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Gender and Boyle's Law of Gases

Elizabeth Potter

Re-examines the assumptions and experimental evidence behind Boyle's Law.

Boyle's Law, which describes the relation between the pressure and volume of a gas, was worked out by Robert Boyle in the mid-1600s. His experiments are still considered examples of good scientific work and continue to be studied along with their historical and intellectual contexts by philosophers, historians, and sociologists. Now there is controversy over whether Boyle's work was based only on experimental evidence or whether it was influenced by the politics and religious controversies of the time, including especially class and gender politics.

Elizabeth Potter argues that even good science is sometimes influenced by such issues, and she shows that the work leading to the Gas Law, while certainly based on physical evidence, was also shaped by class and gendered considerations. At issue were two descriptions of nature, each supporting radically different visions of class and gender arrangements. Boyle's Law rested on mechanistic principles, but Potter shows us an alternative law based on hylozooic principles (the belief that all matter is animated), whose adherents challenged social stability and the status quo in 17th-century England.

Elizabeth Potter, Alice Andrews Quigley Professor of Women's Studies at Mills College, is co-editor of Feminist Epistemologies and author of numerous articles on feminist epistemology and feminist philosophy of science.

Race, Gender, and Science
Anne Fausto-Sterling, general editor

June 2001
232 pages, 5 figs., 6 x 9, index
cloth 0-253-33916-2 $34.95 L /

Table of Contents

  1. Cover
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  1. Contents
  2. pp. v-vi
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  1. Acknowledgments
  2. p. vii
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  1. Introduction
  2. pp. ix-xiii
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  1. Part One: The Intersection of Gender and Science: Now We See It. Now We Don’t.
  2. pp. 1-2
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  1. 1. Now We See It
  2. pp. 3-21
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  1. 2. Now We Don’t
  2. pp. 22-42
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  1. pp. 43-44
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  1. 3. Economics, Politics, and Religion: Stuart Conflicts with Parliament
  2. pp. 45-48
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  1. 4. Civil War Approaches
  2. pp. 49-52
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  1. 5. The Intersection of Class and Gender Politics
  2. pp. 53-60
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  1. 6. The Boyle Family’s Religious and Class Politics
  2. pp. 61-65
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  1. 7. More Class and Gender Politics
  2. pp. 66-76
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  1. 8. Boyle’s Gender Politics
  2. pp. 77-84
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  1. 9. Boyle’s Background Reading
  2. pp. 85-97
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  1. 10. Boyle’s Hermeticism, Magic, and Active Principles
  2. pp. 98-108
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  1. 11. Hermeticism, Hylozoism, and Radical Politics
  2. pp. 109-115
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  1. 12. Boyle’s Concern over the Sectaries
  2. pp. 116-123
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  1. 13. Boyle’s Objections to Hylozoism
  2. pp. 124-129
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  1. 14. Experimental Support for the Corpuscular Philosophy
  2. pp. 130-147
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  1. 15. Boyle’s Law of Gases
  2. pp. 148-150
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  1. 16. The Production of an Alternative Law
  2. pp. 151-154
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  1. 17. Methodological Considerations
  2. pp. 155-160
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  1. 18. “The Data Alone Proved Boyle’s Hypothesis”
  2. pp. 161-170
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  1. 19. Good Science
  2. pp. 172-1179
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  1. Conclusion
  2. pp. 180-186
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  1. Notes
  2. pp. 187-202
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  1. Index
  2. pp. 203-210
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