What are the basic principles of the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The Scientific Revolution began around the end of the Renaissance (17th century) and continued to the late 18th century. The Enlightenment (Age of Reason) is generally considered to have spanned the same time frame with the convenient end date being 1789, the beginning of the French Revolution.

The Scientific Revolution/Enlightenment saw many advances in physics, astronomy, biology, and chemistry. Although previous periods did contribute to the ken of science and technology, this period was more productive and was inspired by dramatic shifts in world views.

One shift was from geocentric to a heliocentric picture of the universe (solar system) offered by Copernicus in 1543. This is often described as one of the seminal moments in the nascent stages of the Scientific Revolution because it marked a shift from religious explanation to scientific explanation. It was declared sacrilegious to suggest that the Earth (humans) were not the center of the universe.

Another aspect was the emergence of empiricism in line with the scientific method. This was a departure from the deductive approach championed by Aristotle. Francis Bacon favored an inductive approach. This involved no assumptions which allowed the scientist to go into an experiment or observation of data with no pre/misconceptions. The Scientific Revolution was the product of theoretical developments but these were often the result of increased use of experimentation and the development/improvements of devices such as calculators, microscopes, and telescopes.

The span of the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment led to political as well as scientific innovations. For example, John Locke (1632-1704) had an enormous influence on political philosophy, liberalism, and the separation between church and state. Consequently, he was a significant influence on America's founding fathers such as Hamilton, Jefferson, and Madison. Locke also made considerable contributions to modern notions of self (the individual), epistemology, empiricism, and philosophy of mind.

The scientists of these revolutions focused more on inductive, empirical (observation) methods of studying the mechanics of the way things work. Paralleling this was an equally empirical study of social mechanics such as the relationship between the individual and society. As a result, the end of the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment hovers around the American and French Revolutions. This era was a political, philosophical, sociological, and scientific revolution. In any discipline, from physics to sociology, the mark of these revolutions was made by empirical study and inductive, open-minded observation.



Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial