The traumatic birth of the modern knowledge: The Hobbes-Boyle dispute

Semesters: WS 19/20, SS 20
Lecturer: Univ.-Lekt. Dr.phil. Boris Buden

The course in the third semester (WS 19/20) served as a follow-up to the research into the increasing complexity of the globalized world (A. Giddens’ concept of “reflexive modernity” SS 2019). The seminar explored the historical genealogy of the existing epistemic-political order focusing on the famous 17thcentury debate between Thomas Hobbes and Robert Boyle. As it is well known, Boyle promoted the vision of a scientific knowledge separated from the interests of power or faith and produced within a community of peers organized around its own methods and rules and bounded to a limited domain – a vision that led to the creation of the modern scientific disciplines. For Hobbes, on the other hand, the idea of a disciplinary knowledge produced beyond any non-scientific interests was an illusion. He rather doubted the idea of disinterestedness and believed that knowledge is intrinsically political. The question which we concerned ourselves with in this course was: What can we learn today from this debate and how can we relate its meaning to the contemporary forms of knowledge production?


  • Shapin, Steven; Schaffer, Simon. Leviathan and The Air-Pump. Hobbes, Boyle, and The Experimental Life. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1985.

Individual Project
Format: Paper
Topic: The Hobbes-Boyle Dispute – The Origin, Use And Future Of Disciplines

In the fourth semester (SS 20) we continued the discussions held in the previous semester around the distinction between science and politics, or nature and society, addressed by Steven Shapin and Simon Schaffer in their book: Leviathan and the Air-Pump: Hobbes, Boyle, and the Experimental Life. Students approached this same issue by reading and discussing Bruno Latour’s essay An Attempt at a “Compositionist Manifesto”. Here was the dichotomy between facts and values, i.e. between the arguments based on scientific evidence and the arguments based on a sense of morality, challenged in the context of the debate on global warming, or more concretely, around the questions of ecology, nature and sustainable development. Special emphasis was put on Bruno Latour’s concept of compositionism – an ability to compose, to build or to reassemble out of an irreducible heterogeneity. It implies also a new perspective on our world that goes beyond the modernist division between nature and society/culture. It also promises to bring about change based on a new idea of universality and on the prospect of a new common world.


  • Latour, Bruno. An Attempt at a Compositionist Manifesto. Mexico City: Gato Negro, 2016.
  • Latour, Bruno. Reassembling the Social. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Individual Project
Format: Paper and Discussion
Topic: ‘Society’ In Religion