Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in History



First Advisor

J. M. Briggs, Jr.


There have been many explanations offered for the transformation which occurred in natural philosophy during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. One such explanation was that this “scientific revolution” was philosophical, i.e. the chances which occurred in natural philosophy were marked by the transition from an essentialist to a non-essentialist view of nature. The validity of this explanation was investigated by selecting an essentialist theme, effluvial theory, and tracing its development from its origins in renaissance occult philosophy to the incorporation of effluvia into the physical theory of the 17th and 18th century natural philosophy. This was accomplished by use of the thematic analysis as developed by Gerald Holton.

From this analysis, it was concluded that effluvial themes persisted throughout the period and were incorporated into the natural philosophies of Isaac Beekman, Isaac Newton and Stephen Gray. The widespread application of effluvialist themes by men of such differing views of nature led to this rejection of the proposal that the post-revolutionary period could be characterized as non-essentialist. Finally, with regard to the presence of the effluvialist theme in the work of Gray, it was found that the electrical effluvium was the unifying principle in his natural philosophy.



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