In this paper I distinguish four methods of empirical inquiry in eighteenth century natural philosophy. In particular, I distinguish among what I call, (i) the mathematical-experimental method; (ii) the method of experimental series; (iii) the method of inspecting ideas; (iv) the method of natural history. While such a list is not exhaustive of the methods of inquiry available, even so, focusing on these four methods will help in diagnosing a set of debates within what has come to be known as ‘empiricism’; throughout the eighteenth century there was a methodological reaction against the hegemonic aspirations of mathematical natural philosophy associated with the authority of Newton.
In particular, I argue that the methods of inspecting ideas and natural history remained attractive to ‘empiricist’ thinkers with reservations about aspects of Newtonianism. Moreover, I show that the language of experimentalism meant different things to researchers with different attitudes toward Newton’s legacy. In order to illustrate and make more precise these claims, I embed my taxonomic treatment of the four methods within a narrative in which I primarily focus on Colin Maclaurin, Isaac Newton, David Hume, and Georges-Louis Leclerc de Buffon.
Schliesser E. (2018) Four Methods of Empirical Inquiry in the Aftermath of Newton’s Challenge. In: Bodenmann S., Rey AL. (eds) What Does it Mean to be an Empiricist?. Boston Studies in the Philosophy and History of Science, vol 331. Springer, Cham