Renaissance Scientific Movement
Renaissance Scientific Movement
Guided by new observations and exciting ideas, and made possible by important discoveries and inventions, the Renaissance scientific movement led Western Europe away from medieval attitudes to the beginnings of the views held by the modern world. Spanning approximately two hundred years, beginning midway into the fifteenth century, the movement saw the university-dominated theological stance begin to yield to the secularization of knowledge.
Particularly important to the spread of knowledgewas the invention of the printing press, which allowed for the distribution of standard texts at affordable cost. Coinciding with the means to disseminate ideas was a strong demand for new and more accurate translations and editions of classical texts. Greeks writings that were previously unknown or underutilized were translated into Latin, imparting knowledge and inspiration to the scientists of the Renaissance. Writing in reaction against Aristotelian science made for an atmosphere rich in ideas. In addition, many mystical and occultist writings circulated and these too found a place in the science of the time. Expanded literacy and increased use of vernacular languages gradually ended the exclusivity of knowledge to institutions. In order to apply new discoveries in practical ways, more people became tradesmen and engineers.
Advancements in technology—including the invention of scientific instruments like the microscope, telescope, and the thermometer—contributed to changing the prevailing attitudes toward scientific experimentation. Whereas rationalism, or rationalistic philosophy—whose epistemological and ontological foundations rested solely on a priori, or analytical reasoning—was the dominant mode of scientific thought, empirical philosophy—whose experimental basis turned to careful observations, or a posteriori reasoning—made new inroads. Although both modes of thinking were practiced in varying degrees, the trend was to look outward, not inward, for answers. This spirit of daring is exemplified by Copernicus' radical theory that the earth revolves around the sun and not the sun around the earth; his heliocentric theory removed the earth, and man, from the center of the universe.
Allen G. Debus (essay date 1978)
SOURCE: "Tradition and Reform," in Man and Nature in the Renaissance, Cambridge University Press, 1978, pp. 1–15.
[In the excerpt below, Debus provides an overview of the scientific revolution of the Renaissance, emphasizing the new interest in classical texts, the broader use of vernacular languages, and the expanded roles of observation, mathematics, technology, and mysticism.]
Few events in world history have been more momentous than the Scientific Revolution. The period between the mid-fifteenth and the end of the eighteenth centuries witnessed the growing cultural and political influence of Western Europe over all other parts of the globe. The new science and technology of the West was a crucial factor in this development, a fact recognized by most scholars at the time. Thus, Francis Bacon (1561–1626) observed in the Novum organum (1620) that
"it is well to observe the force and virtue and consequences of discoveries; and these are to be seen nowhere more conspicuously than in those three which were unknown to the ancients …; namely, printing, gunpowder, and the magnet. For these three have changed the whole face and state of things throughout the world; the first in literature, the second in warfare, the third in navigation; whence have followed innumerable changes; insomuch that no empire,...
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Bertrand Russell (essay date 1945)
SOURCE: "General Characteristics" and "The Rise of Science," in A History of Western Philosophy, and Its Connection with Political and Social Circumstances from the Earliest Times to the Present Day, Simon and Schuster, 1945, pp. 491–95, 525–40.
[In the following excerpt, Russell puts in perspective both the achievements of Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, and Newton, and the advances made in astronomy, dynamics, scientific instruments, and mathematics.]
Almost everything that distinguishes the modern world from earlier centuries is attributable to science, which achieved its most spectacular triumphs in the seventeenth century. The Italian Renaissance, though not medieval, is not modern; it is more akin to the best age of Greece. The sixteenth century, with its absorption in theology, is more medieval than the world of Machiavelli. The modern world, so far as mental outlook is concerned, begins in the seventeenth century. No Italian of the Renaissance would have been unintelligible to Plato or Aristotle; Luther would have horrified Thomas Aquinas, but would not have been difficult for him to understand. With the seventeenth century it is different: Plato and Aristotle, Aquinas and Occam, could not have made head or tail of Newton.
The new conceptions that science introduced profoundly influenced modern philosophy. Descartes,...
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Bertrand Russell (lecture date 1914)
SOURCE: A lecture delivered at The Museum on November 18, 1914, in Scientific Method in Philosophy: The Herbert Spencer Lecture, Oxford at the Clarendon Press, 1914, pp. 3–30.
[In the following lecture, Russell summarizes the course of science since Copernicus and asserts that philosophy can progress only by studying, adapting, and applying the methods of science.]
When we try to ascertain the motives which have led men to the investigation of philosophical questions, we find that, broadly speaking, they can be divided into two groups, often antagonistic, and leading to very divergent systems. These two groups of motives are, on the one hand, those derived from religion and ethics, and, on the other hand, those derived from science. Plato, Spinoza, and Hegel may be taken as typical of the philosophers whose interests are mainly religious and ethical, while Leibniz, Locke, and Hume may be taken as representatives of the scientific wing. In Aristotle, Descartes, Berkeley, and Kant we find both groups of motives strongly present.
Herbert Spencer, in whose honour we are assembled to-day, would naturally be classed among scientific philosophers: it was mainly from science that he drew his data, his formulation of problems, and his conception of method. But his strong religious sense is obvious in much of his writing, and his...
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Edwin Arthur Burtt (essay date 1924)
SOURCE: An introduction to The Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Physical Science, revised edition, Doubleday Anchor Books, 1954, pp. 15–35.
[In the following excerpt, Burtt traces the development of ideas and changes in terminology concerning man's relation to the world.]
A. Historical Problem Suggested by the Nature of Modern Thought
How curious, after all, is the way in which we moderns think about our world! And it is all so novel, too. The cosmology underlying our mental processes is but three centuries old—a mere infant in the history of thought—and yet we cling to it with the same embarrassed zeal with which a young father fondles his new-born baby. Like him, we are ignorant enough of its precise nature; like him, we nevertheless take it piously to be ours and allow it a subtly pervasive and unhindered control over our thinking.
The world-view of any age can be discovered in various ways, but one of the best is to note the recurrent problems of its philosophers. Philosophers never succeed in getting quite outside the ideas of their time so as to look at them objectively—this would, indeed, be too much to expect. Neither do maidens who bob their hair and make more obvious their nether bifurcation see themselves through the eyes of an elderly Puritan matron. But philosophers do succeed...
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Boas, Marie. "The Organisation and Reorganisation of Science." In her The Scientific Renaissance: 1450–1630, pp. 238–64. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1962.
Discusses the evolution of modern scientific thought from Aristotelian and university-dominated to independent and empirical.
Foster, M. B. "The Christian Doctrine of Creation and the Rise of Modern Natural Science." Mind XLIII, No. 172 (October 1934): 446–468.
Examines the indebtedness of scientific thought to Christian principles.
Hall, Rupert. "The Scholar and the Craftsman in the Scientific Revolution." In Critical Problems in the History of Science, edited by Marshall Clagett, pp. 3–23. Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1959.
Evaluates the role of the tradesman class in the development of science.
Hine, William L. "Marin Mersenne: Renaissance naturalism and Renaissance magic." In Occult and scientific mentalities in the Renaissance, edited by Brian Vickers, pp. 165–176. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984.
Uses the work of Marin Mersenne to discuss the limits of, and differences between, naturalism and magic in the Renaissance.
Loeb, Louis E....
(The entire section is 437 words.)