Giovan Battista Della Porta's construction of pneumatic phenomena and his use of recipes as heuristic tools

Publikation: Beiträge in ZeitschriftenZeitschriftenaufsätzeForschungbegutachtet


In this paper, I suggest that research results from the history and philosophy of modern science provide a valuable methodological contribution for investigating early modern experimental philosophy and employ them to reassess the contribution of Giovan Battista Della Porta to its development. In modern science, the production of experimental knowledge is dependent on a complex array of communication strategies involving verbal terminology, diagrams, standardized instruments, and measurement units. Historians and philosophers have investigated the constitutive connection between such strategies and the phenomena scientists study in laboratories, showing how the two often co-evolved during the 19th and 20th centuries. Della Porta took an important first step towards the development of such methods by transforming the traditional recipe format into a strategy for mutually connecting, conceptualizing, and sharing observations made in experiments involving similar, but not identical, instruments and procedures. I use as a case study the changing manner in which he used recipes for presenting and connecting a number of pneumatic experiences from the first edition of Natural Magic (1558) until his meteorology treatise On Transmutations of Air (1610). In modern terms, those experiences can be interpreted as demonstrating the air's expansion and contraction with heat or pressure. However, today's notions of air pressure, density, and volume did not exist around 1600 and the verbal, visual, and quantitative means of expressing them had yet to be created. Della Porta did not create the modern notions, but he contributed to their emergence in a substantial way with his discussions of those pneumatic experiences. Della Porta's innovation may be described as the creation of a new epistemic genre, but it was not of a purely literary character, since the recipes also shaped the instruments and procedures they described, transforming them into new means of knowledge production in experimental philosophy.

Seiten (von - bis)406-424
Anzahl der Seiten19
PublikationsstatusErschienen - 01.08.2020

Bibliographische Notiz

This research was funded by the Institute for Advances Study on Media Cultures of Computer Simulation (MECS), Leuphana Universität Lüneburg (DFG grant KFOR 1927), and by the project “Exploring the 'dark ages' of particle physics” (DFG grant BO 4062/2‐1).