The Royal Society and the Profession of Knowledge

Philosophical writers vested much of their identities and reputations in their printed works, so that counterfeiting, abridgment, translation, and piracy threatened them with far more than merely economic damage. The repute of the individual concerned — and of the knowledge he or she professed — rested on the successful negotiation of such hazards. Writers developed certain strategies to overcome these dangers. They might coalesce and cooperate as a group, for example, combining resources to protect themselves. Such a body might even become a corporate licenser, utilizing the conventions described in chapter 3 to distinguish its books as creditable. Another possible course was to invent new techniques of communication, such as the learned periodical, the protocols of which might limit the practical powers of printers and booksellers. Still another was to police not just publication but reading, in the hope of stimulating debate while limiting conflict.

Adrian Johns, The Nature of the Book, 445


  1. “Restoration natural philosophers created both new forms of sociability and new genres of writing. The experimental paper, the philosophical journal, the book review, the editor, and the experimental author were all original creations. They may plausibly be seen as mechanisms for making and protecting the credit of documentary evidence when that credit was otherwise insecure…. These were much more than merely rhetorical concepts. They need to be appreciated in terms of practical responses to problems permeating the very character and use of printed reports. Above all, however, solutions to those problems envisaged that a place must be found in which authorship and reading could become safeguarded activities and where these new conventions could be formulated and applied. This meant providing a location where the accepted conventions of polite society would be visibly and reliably observed at all times. In 1660 such a place was invented. Two years later it received its charter as the Royal Society” (Johns 464-65).

  2. “Experimental philosophy was to be a conversational practice. That is, an experiment succeeded not just if its procedures and results were agreed upon — itself a collective decision — but if it led interestingly to further conversation, and thence to further experiments” (Johns 470).

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.