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Vico’s Ring


Spinoza then goes on to offer a fairly dogmatic-sounding rela-

tivization of experiments: «One can never confirm it by chemical

or any other experiment. […] I pass on to the experiments which

I put forward so as to confirm my explanation not in any abso-

lute sense but, as I expressly said, to some degree». On the other

hand, at the end of this section on fluidity, he acknowledges the

value of experimental data: «Not that I therefore dismiss this

piece of research as pointless. On the contrary, if in the case of

every liquid such research were done with the greatest possible

accuracy and reliability, I would consider it most useful for un-

derstanding their individual differences […]». He can hold both

views at the same time, and furthermore, personally enjoy con-

ducting experiments (within his technical means), on the basis

that, by the complexities of his epistemic system, (a) viewed

“negatively”, experimental data belong to the first kind of

knowledge, and (b) viewed positively, they are still to be accepted

as formal elements of the overall epistemic structure


. His disa-

greement with Boyle


, and other early modern scientists, includ-

ing Bacon


, rather is that, in his view, they were ignorant of,

and ignored, the true structure of reality, and thus were unable to

give epistemic primacy and priority to the «notions that are

pure», as properly explicated in his works.


Letter 13

, we possess a follow-up discussion of

Letter 6


covers the same ground as the earlier letter, and in which Spino-

za restates his position on the homogeneity of nitre and a

“mechanistic” explanation of chemical reactions. However, the

letter is also pertinent to the exploration of Spinoza’s epistemo-

logical commitments in matters of science. Whereas it seems that


Letter 6

, the contentious issue with Boyle was the epistemic

status of experiments, which for Spinoza belong to the first kind

of knowledge, in the new letter the epistemological arguments

shift to the next level, the second kind of knowledge. While ref-

erences to the second kind of knowledge are already present in

the previous letter (when he speaks of “drawing conclusions”),