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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Rationality and spatial structure : metaphysics and space in seventeenth century thought Staddon, Cædmon


The structuring of knowledge is related in complex ways to the political, social and economic geography of the period. The seventeenth century was a period of great social, political and economic turmoil in England and Western Europe, throughout which intellectuals proposed various alternative models of social, no less than scientific, certainty and stability. Of these disputes, the debate between Thomas Hobbes and Robert Boyle during the 1650s and 1660s over the interpretation of Boyle's air pump trials is a prime example of the complex, multiply imbricated, terrain traversed in pursuit of "right method" and social order. By the century's end, a broadly syncretic philosophical position which largely favoured Newtonian modalities was conjoined with a political settlement in a way which clearly set Western intellectual development onto a new developmental trajectory. Of particular importance to this thesis are the geographical correlates of these ostensibly universal scientific transformations. This general restructuring of theories of science and society also necessarily entailed aspatial restructuring at the abstract philosophical level. The ontological dispute between spatial absolutists and spatial relativists drew on rival conceptions of substance and subjectivity which were in turn employed to underwrite divergent ideas about the spatial structure of knowledge production. Ultimately these spatialities were mapped into divergent conceptions of social and political order. These debates and social transformations resulted in the undermining of sophisticated visions of a geographical discipline, such as that forwarded by Bernhardus Varenius in his Geographia Generalis. Instead, geography was established as the study of the relations between objects and their environments in a way which elided critical questions regarding the spatiality of many ontological and epistemological problems. In this thesis I will attempt to integrate an analysis of the spatial content of seventeenth century ontological and epistemological theories with an analysis of the historico-geographical context within which they were elaborated and diffused. One implication of this thesis is that the "project of modernity", initiated during the "Scientific Revolution" also contained a corollary spatial discourse which must be recovered if modernity itself is to be more fully understood. Suggestions about an "end" to the "project of modernity", and the dawn of a "postmodern" era, must consequently establish that modernity’s constitutive spatial and geographical modalities have either been superceded or significantly transformed.

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