The Scientific Revolution

The term "Scientific Revolution" is a modern one. Most Early Modern scholars called themselves "natural philosophers" rather than "scientists." Both institutionally and conceptually, science was not the independent practice it is today. Much of what we know as science originally belonged to the study of philosophy and theology, and most often was carried out under Church or court patronage.

1.A "gradual" revolutioin

The Scientific Revolution was not a revolution in the sense of a sudden eruption ushering in radical change, but a century-long process of discovery in which scientists built on the findings of those who had come before — from the scientific achievements of the ancient Greeks to the scholarly contributions of Islamic thinkers, to the work of certain late-medieval and early-Renaissance Europeans. The expanding economy of the Age of Discovery represented another significant impulse, in that the need for better navigation, time-keeping, and naval engineering pushed Europeans to pose new questions and, in turn, devise new methods to solve them.

2. Why Europe?

Modern European history in the perspective of world history

Europe: cultural innovations and navigation around the world.

Asia (China and Japan): 1600s: a closed or semi-closed system to maintain existent social hierarchy; where government office was worshipped by the people and technology and commerce were treated lightly by the state.

3.Pre-Scientific Revolution thinking

The law of hypotheses: human limitations of knowledge led to human inability to know the whole truth. Hypotheses were the best humans could achieve in understanding the world. But what Galileo and others tried to demonstrate was that human observations conveyed truth.


4. Stages of scientific development

Based on theology and Aristotle.

Based on Hermetic theory: a divine spirit present in all the material things in the world. And the job of the natural philosopher was to capture these divine messages.

A completely secular approach to science, treating the world as consisting of a rational, knowable order.

5. Why was mathematics so important to the scientists of the 16th and early 17th centuries?

The truth of God could be found in math.

Implied in the Hermetic theory is independent search for truth instead of accepting established truth; mathematics enabled independent thinking beyond a mere reading of the scriptures.

Mathematical conclusion can be publicly arrived at and publicly demonstrated, encouraging social consensus.

6. What were the main contributions of Copernicus, Brahe, Kepler, Galileo, and Newton to new scientific ways of thinking of the universe?

Copernicus: changed the view of the universe from geo-centric to helio-centric. Earth moved in perfect circles around sun. Earth’s self-rotation.

Brahe: in Denmark,. Changed established view of the stars. Royal patronage.

Kepler: Three laws of planetary motion: challenging the view of a harmonious universe through the perfect circles of the stars’ movements, and through the constant speed of these movements.

Galileo: telescope to see the moon; inertia: contradicts the traditional belief that objects are naturally at rest; the state of motion is just as natural as the state of rest.

Newton: Universal law of gravity; calculus; nature of light; mathematical rules of the three laws of motion: inertia, acceleration, action and reaction; the universe was infinite and had no center.


7. What is meant by the Copernican-Newtonian paradigm?

Science defined, rather than God defined, universe. Mathematics and observations constituted science.

Earth & other planets revolved around sun; infinite universe: many more heavenly bodies than previously assumed.

A world of motion, not just a static one.

God created the universe; science defined it; science is a body of laws created by God to govern the universe. After creation God retreated to backstage and allowed the laws to run on their own.

8. The new universe

Helio-centric, instead of centered around the earth.

The earth revolved around the sun in an elliptic circle at different speeds from different distances, which also followed mathematical rules.

The stars were made of matter just like the earth and had imperfect surfaces.

9. Scientific methods

The development of scientific discoveries were justified and facilitated by scientific philosophy or methods. Newton tried that. But more than any one else, it was Rene Descartes who created a justification connecting mathematics with physics, and individual observations with religion.

10. Descartes

1. How is Descartes’s philosophy affected by the ideas of new science?

2. What are the four main principles of his method?

3. What does "I think, therefore I am" mean?

4. How does Descartes know that God exists?

11. What are the four main principles of his method

To accept nothing as true unless it was proved.
To divide each difficulty into many parts and search for solution.
To arrange thoughts in order beginning with the simplest to the most difficult.
To make sure nothing is omitted.

12. How is Descartes’s philosophy affected by the ideas of new science?

  • Idea of proof or testing was new; and could only exist when truth was knowable to human beings.
  • Meticulous collection of data; and procedure of proof (from the simple to the difficult) made proof a publicly demonstrable procedure.
  • Clear and distinct ideas: emphasis on exactness and accuracy.
  • Science also emphasizes exhaustion of data, so that the results can apply to similar conditions every where in the universe.
  • Emphasis on procedure suggests that science had its own internal rules to follow.
  • Take apart a big problem and make it observable.

13. Definition of absolute certainty

Clear and distinct ideas.

What is his definition of clear and distinct ideas?

Mathematical formulae.

He bridged physics and mathematics: by reducing the whole world to mathematical representation. He also bridged observation and legitimacy by connecting observation through mathematics. Furthermore, he justified truth through mathematics and observation by connection with God.

14. How did Descartes justify observation?

Begin with a clear and distinct idea (based on math)

Then you seek it in reality because it will sure be there.

In other words, explorations in the world are valid because they are backed by these "perfect ideas" of God in one’s mind. This can be used to justify empirical observations only because it made observations ‘legitimate,’ so to speak, by reconciling Catholicism and scientific observation, not because his observation was the same as our definition of observation today.

15. Deism: an influential interpretation of Christianity in the 17th
to 18th centuries.

Deists believed in the existence of God, but they usually thought very highly of human beings, who could either share in the power of God, or exercise an active role in the world while God retreated to the backstage.

Descartes, on the other hand, was more a good Catholic than a Deist. He believed in human ability of knowledge but did not acknowledge the value of direct human experience, although he can be used to justify experience.