In an old boy network of nineteenth-century natural philosophers, all with a background in mathematics from the University of Cambridge, a conspicuous aversion ruled against metaphysics. Within these circles it produced a strong compulsion to define the limits of genuine scientific endeavour. These attempts were primarily directed against unfounded hypotheses trying to encompass the indefinite and all sorts of aprioristic knowledge, except mathematics. Either by emphasizing the formal aspects of science or linking the formalism to useful applications in the shape of physical models and demands for practical use, two ways in this crusade, not always consistent, were laid out. Nevertheless, the same natural philosophers were engaged in fundamental questions and manifest speculations about the constitution of matter, the age of the earth, the destiny of the universe, and so forth. How could that, if at all, yield a coherent worldview? In this article I will answer that question by looking at how a group of outspoken and influential Cantabrigian Wranglers were carving out intellectual, cultural and political space for themselves and their scientific endeavours while unremittingly patrolling their borders.
Journal of Cambridge Studies, 2010, Vol 5, Issue 4, p. 1-15