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THE SCIENTIFIC REVOLUTION

When and how did the scientific revolution begin?

The scientific revolution began with Nicolaus Copernicus' (1473-1543) heliocentric theory and the rediscovery of ancient Greek atomism in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. But it was not until the end of the seventeenth century, after Isaac Newton's (1643-1727) work, that it was clear to educated people in Europe that a full-blown scientific revolution had occurred.

What were the main ideas of the scientific revolution?

Some of the key ideas and theories that came out of the scientific revolution were that Earth revolves around the Sun, matter is composed of small particles, everything that happens can be explained mechanically or mechanistically with the help of mathematics, general principles or natural laws must be supported by observable data, and, perhaps most important, that science itself is an exciting activity that will benefit mankind.

Who were the key players in the theories and practice of them in the scientific revolution?

Some of the key players of the scientific revolution were Nicolaus Copernicus (14731543), Ptolemy (90-168 c.e., who was not of this period, but highly relevant to it), Galileo Galilei (1564-1642), Johannes Kepler (1571-1630), Francis Bacon (15611626), Robert Boyle (1627-1691), and Isaac Newton (1643-1727).

What were the main philosophical aspects of the scientific revolution?

From a purely philosophical perspective, given the strong influence of Neoplatonic thought in the work of almost all the natural philosophers (beginning with key Italian Renaissance thinkers, moving through Copernicus, and possibly culminating in Newton), the scientific revolution can be viewed as a sustained revolt against Aristotelian-ism back toward Platonism.

But it is more complicated than that. Aristotelianism was directly associated with the power of the Catholic church, which diminished as much for political and doctrinal reasons during the Reformation and Counter-Reformation as it did in philosophical circles. And, as it turned out, historically within both science and the philosophy of science, the revived influence of Neoplatonic metaphysics was relatively short-lived. By the Age of Reason, or the eighteenth-century Enlightenment, an empirically based rationality and secular reason came to form the educated world view in the West.

What was so revolutionary about the scientific revolution?

What was revolutionary about the scientific revolution was how it emphasized objectivity and the need to look for natural causes for observable events. Many new inventions, such as telescopes, microscopes, thermometers, barometers, air pumps, and electric charge detectors, aided in this new endeavor. The principle of objectivity played out in public discovery, observation, and experimentation that could be duplicated for verification. (To be accepted, however, important experiments required credible witnesses—usually men of substantial social status.)

The goal of exact measurement and descriptions that could be quantified made mathematics a permanent part of science. But the pre-Socratics had already sought naturalistic explanations for natural events and emphasized the importance of number, so those aspects of the scientific revolution were not new. The early modern

Does everyone now believe the scientific revolution was good for humanity?

Few can deny the value of an objective, factual understanding of the natural world. Modern technology that resulted from this knowledge has prolonged life, added to comfort, and made all human beings more mobile. There is also an understanding that knowledge should be open and that science is subject to revision, which goes back to the early days of the Royal Society. However, in the second half of the twentieth century, the objectivity of early modern science and its values were questioned by historians and cultural critics. Concerning the high value placed on experimentation, for example, it has been discovered that many of the experiments reported by Galileo (1564-1642) and Boyle (16271691) were thought experiments from which they deduced the facts, instead of having directly observed them. And Newton (1643-1727) himself did not actually base his three laws of motion on experimental data, as much as he logically deduced them from more abstract theoretical commitments.

On the cultural side, Francis Bacon's (1561-1626) perspective was based on assumptions that Earth and its creatures were all raw material for the manipulation and use of mankind. There was no sense that nature had value in its own right. In addition, some feminist critics have viewed the scientific revolution as a radical turn away from an ancient and medieval view of Earth as a living, organic whole, or mother to all who lived on it. They claim that this change in perspective privileged aggression and violence as virtues, compared to harmony and nurturance. Many crafts such as tanning, dying, and brewing, but most important, midwifery, became closed to women, as male practitioners took them over, based on "more scientific" principles, and moved them out of private households.

methods of objectivity were innovative, nevertheless. As the twentieth century historian and philosopher of science Thomas Kuhn (1922-1996) pointed out, the classical sciences of antiquity were astronomy, statics (bodies at rest or forces in equilibrium) and optics, which were all associated with mathematics and harmonics, so that advances in one led to advances in the others. In the sixteenth century, local motion (as something different from Aristotle's idea of motion as qualitative change) was added to the mathematical sciences.

In the seventeenth century, the mathematical sciences were revised by the addition of analytic geometry and calculus, new quantitative laws of motion, new theories of vision, refraction, and color, and the extension of statics to pneumatics (studies of air, fluids, and gasses). Still, Kuhn argued that Aristotle and the medievals also understood the importance of observation and experimentation. What was new was not so much the addition of new fields or striking new discoveries, but a change in perspective—new ways of looking at old things.

 
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