Skip to content

Corpuscularian Hypothesis Statement

The variety of atomism especially associated with Boyle, and expounded in his Sceptical Chemist (1661) and The Origin and Form of Qualities (1666). Boyle held that all material substances are composed of minute corpuscles, themselves possessing shape, size, and motion. The different properties of materials would arise from different combinations and collisions of corpuscles: chemical properties, such as solubility, would be explicable by the mechanical interactions of corpuscles, just as the capacity of a key to turn a lock is explained by their respective shapes. In Boyle's hands the idea is opposed to the Aristotelian theory of elements and principles, which he regarded as untestable and sterile. His approach is a precursor of modern chemical atomism, and had immense influence on Locke. However, Locke recognized the need for a different kind of force guaranteeing the cohesion of atoms, and both this and the interactions between such atoms were criticized by Leibniz. See also action at a distance, field.

Related content in Oxford Reference

Reference Entries


M etaphysics, philosophy of science A metaphysical view of the world in the spirit of the Greek atomism of Democritus . It holds that everything is composed of indivisible corpuscles or atoms, which are the units at the last stage of the analysis of material things into their components. This theory accepts the distinction between primary and secondary qualities and claims that corpuscles differ intrinsically in their primary qualities such as size, shape, mutual arrangement, and motion. With these differences, they form various kinds of materials and things. Every change can be reduced to mechanical action, with geometry and mechanics as the paradigms of science. Modern corpuscularianism was developed by the Irish scientist Robert Boyle in the middle of the seventeenth century as an attempt to replace the Aristotelian world view of hylomorphism , but it is also associated with Galileo, Descartes, Locke, Newton , and chemical atomism. The dominance of the theory declined with the emergence of the field theory in the middle of the nineteenth century, but it still exerts great influence on contemporary philosophy of science. “Corpuscularians, although disagreeing quite substantially about specific details, held that the things we experience are in fact made up of small material particles and the way we experience them is a product of the action of these small particles