Dr. Claudia Stein



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Basic II

1500-1720

Scientific Revolution

Dr. Claudia Stein



1. Introduction: Dr. Faustus’s evil deal

Story of D. Johann Fausten (Frankfurt, 1587)
a) The notion of the “Scientific Revolution”: meaning and history

When? Spans roughly period between 1500-1800

Herbert Butterfield, The Origins of Modern Science 1300-1800 (1949):

“…that revolution…outshines everything since the rise of Christianity and reduces the Renaissance and Reformation to the rank of mere episodes, mere internal displacements within the system of medieval Christendom.”


Contextualism: modern historiographical term used to designate attempts to understand the history of ideas by reference to the social and political context in which those ideas were promoted.
Three stereotypes about Science:

1. Science proceeds by genius who makes unexpected discoveries.

2. Scientists are autonomous agents working outside social-cultural context

3. Science is itself is value free


Natural philosophy: a category, also known as “physics”, approximately equal to Aristotle’s term physis. It referred to systematic knowledge of all aspects of the physical world, including living things, and in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries routinely understood that worked as being God’s Creation. It therefore possessed strong theological implications.
Philosopher: in the early modern period, a term which much wider scope than nowadays. A philosopher could be anyone who thought about and sought knowledge in any area; as, natural philosopher, moral philosopher, political philosopher. Rather like the modern term “intellectual”.
Main elements of scientific method today were introduced during Scientific Revolution:

1. use of mathematics to give precise determination of how the world works

2. use of observations and artificially constructed experiments to gain understanding of nature

b) Scholasticism

Aristotle: (384-322 BC): Greek philosopher, of enormous importance for medieval and early modern universities, who stressed the senses as the source of knowledge.


Aristotelianism: a style of philosophy based in the writings of the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle, and incorporating some of the central elements of his approach to knowledge.
Scholasticism, scholastic: scholasticism is a term applied to the intellectual and academic style of the medieval universities, a style stressing debate, disputation, and the effective use of canonical texts (such as those of Aristotle) in the making of arguments. A “scholastic” is a practitioner of that style.
Scholastic Aristotelianism: Aristotelian philosophy pursued according to scholastic procedures.
c) Aristotelian philosophy and its idea of the cosmos

Cosmology: the philosophy of the universe as a whole and its structure ; the physics of the heavens.


Ptolemy (85-165): Greek astronomer and geographer



Almagest: Ptolemy’s important work that defined astronomy in the Islamic world and the Christian Europe until Copernicus.
Geocentric: centred on the earth; used in astronomy

2. Scientific Renaissance in the sixteenth century: Renewing ancient wisdom


a) Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543), German astronomer

De revolutionibus orbium colestium (On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres) (1543)
Heliocentric: Centred on the sun; used in astronomy
Copernicanism: Copernicus’s doctrine that the earth orbits around a stationary sun once a year or an adherence to the geometrical models given in Copernicus’s De revolutionibus for calculation celestial appearances.
b) Andreas Vesalius (1514-1564)

De humani corporis fabrica (1543)

3. Scientific Revolution in the Seventeenth Century: Breaking with the past


  1. Galileo Galilei (1564-1642)

Starry messenger (1610)

Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina (1616)

Dialogue concerning Two Chief World Systems (1632)
Cosimo II de’ Medici (1590-1621): Grand Duke of Tuscany and Florentine patron of Galileo.
b) René Descartes (1596-1650): ”I know therefore I am” (Meditations (1641))

Discourse on Method (1637)

Principles of Philosophy (1644)
Cartesianism: a strain of philosophy owing its central tenets to René Descartes. Descartes’s main doctrine as discussed in the seventeenth century concerned his mechanistic explanations of physical phenomena as well as his arguments for separability of the human mind from body.
Cartesian dualism: Descartes' position that the mind and body are entirely distinct kinds of thing.
Mechanical philosophy: a term coined by the English Robert Boyle to describe any general explanatory system of the physical world that treated its phenomena as due to nothing but pieces of inert matter interaction with one another by virtue of their shapes, sizes, and motions.
b) William Harvey (1564-1642): the Role of Experiment

An Anatomical Study of the Motion of the Heart and of the Blood in Animals (1628)
Experimental philosophy: a natural philosophy that relied on gathering facts from experimental and observational work

c) Isaac Newton (1643-1727): Perfecting Mechanical Philosophy


Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica (mathematical Principals of Natural Philosophy) (1687)

4. Conclusion: Restructuring the Universe (1500-1720)


Glossary of major terms and names:

(chosen from Dear, Peter: Revolutionizing the Sciences: European Knowledge and its Ambition, 1500-1700 (London: Palgrave, 2001). You will find there many more useful explanations! Have a look


Aether: originally, the Aristotelian matter composing the heavens.
Almagest: Ptolemy’s important work that defined astronomy in the Islamic world and the Christian Europe until Copernicus.
Aristotle: (384-322 BC): Greek philosopher, of enormous importance for medieval and early modern universities, who stressed the senses as the source of knowledge.
Aristotelianism: a style of philosophy based in the writings of the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle, and incorporating some of the central elements of his approach to knowledge.
Avicenna (Ibn Sina) (980-1037): Arabic medical writer and commentator on Aristotle.
Cartesianism: a strain of philosophy owing its central tenets to René Descartes. Descartes’s main doctrine as discussed in the seventeenth century concerned his mechanistic explanations of physical phenomena as well as his arguments for seperability of the human mind from body.
Cartesian dualism: Descartes' position that the mind and body are entirely distinct kinds of thing.
Contextualism: modern historiographical term used to designate attempts to understand the history of ideas by reference to the social and political context in which those ideas were promoted.
Copernicanism: Copernicus’s doctrine that the earth orbits around a stationary sun once a year or an adherence to the geometrical models given in Copernicus’s De revolutionibus for calculation celestial appearances.
Cosimo II de’ Medici (1590-1621): Grand Duke of Tuscany and Florentine patron of Galileo.
Cosmology: the philosophy of the universe as a whole and its structure ; the physics of the heavens.
Dioscorides (fl. 50-70): Greek botanist and physician.
Empiricism: a philosophical stance that holds that all knowledge is rooted in the senses and the experience that they provide.
Experimental philosophy: a natural philosophy that relied on gathering facts from experimental and observational work.
Galen (129-c.200): Greek physician and anatomist.
Geocentric: centred on the earth; used in astronomy
Heliocentric: Centred on the sun; used in astronomy
Humanism: a cultural movement originating in Italy in the fourteenth century and the fifteenth century. It consisted of a reverence for an close study of the writings of Greek and Roman antiquity, and promoted attempts at the emulation of ancient cultural achievements. Educationally, it involved a stress on the teaching of classical rhetoric.
Materia medica: something from which medical remedies can be prepared.
Mechanical philosophy: a term coined by the English Robert Boyle to describe any general explanatory system of the physical world that treated its phenomena as due to nothing but pieces of inert matter interaction with one another by virtue of their shapes, sizes, and motions.
Natural history: a descriptive account of things in the physical (non-human) world; particularly, but by no means exclusively, applied to systematic description of plants and animals.
Natural philosophy: a category, also known as “physics”, approximately equal to Aristotle’s term physis. It referred to systematic knowledge of all aspects of the physical world, including living things, and in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries routinely understood that worked as being God’s Creation. It therefore possessed strong theological implications.
Newtonianism: a style of philosophy, first developing in England in the 1690s, that claimed to follow the doctrines of Isaac Newton regarding the right way of learning about nature (empiricism and induction; mathematics) and the content and structure of the physical universe.
Philosopher: in the early modern period, a term which much wider scope than nowadays. A philosopher could be anyone who thought about and sought knowledge in any area; as, natural philosopher, moral philosopher, political philosopher. Rather like the modern term “intellectual”.
Physics: a general term for the study of the natural world, whether animate or inanimate. A practical synonym for “natural philosophy”.
Renaissance: the historical period from 1400 or so to around 1600, depending in the particular region of Europe. The word means “rebirth”, and refers to the period in which high culture devoted itself to the recovery of the civilisation of classical antiquity. See also humanism.
Rheticus, Georgius (1514-1574): German mathematician. Disciple and publicist of Copernicus.
Royal academy of Sciences (Académie Royale des Sciences): Founded in 1666 in Paris as an arm of the French state. Its restricted and paid members conducted inquiry into mathematical studies such as astronomy and navigation, and natural-philosophical (“physical”) inquiries such as chemistry and zoology.
Royal Society: The Royal Society of London for the Improving of Natural knowledge was established in early 1660s. Its Fellows committed themselves to self-described experimental and natural historical inquiry, with a stress on the practical usefulness of natural philosophy.
Scholasticism, scholastic: scholasticism is a term applied to the intellectual and academic style of the medieval universities, a style stressing debate, disputation, and the effective use of canonical texts (such as those of Aristotle) in the making of arguments. A “scholastic” is a practitioner of that style.
Scholastic Aristotelianism: Aristotelian philosophy pursued according to scholastic procedures.


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