What were the principal scientific and philosophical movements of the seventeenth century?    

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The seventeenth century saw what some historians have termed the "scientific revolution," a period not just characterized by major scientific discoveries, but the rise of a rational worldview that would come to be associated with the eighteenth century enlightenment. The century saw great advances in science, including Kepler's laws of planetary motion, Galileo's discovery of Jupiter's moons and advances in explaining bodies in motion, and of course Isaac Newton's advances in optics that accompanied his seminal work on gravity and motion in the Principia Mathematica. Philosophers of the period included Rene Decartes, whose materialism and deductive method of reasoning were highly influential, Francis Bacon, who championed a inductive method based on observation, and Newton himself, who, following Bacon, argued for a more experimental method. Cartesians (followers of Descartes) included such luminaries as Gottfried Liebniz, who developed calculus independent from Newton; and Baruch Spinoza. John Locke, a rigorous empiricist who derived inspiration from Newton and Bacon, wrote near the end of the century.

Many historians have pointed to a number of external factors in bringing about the scientific advances of the seventeenth century. One was the continued spread of written material, which helped create a widespread scientific community. Another was the rise of Protestantism, which had created questions about Catholic dogma that contributed to a critical atmosphere in Europe. Many Protestant leaders, however, persecuted those who deviated from biblical teachings as rigorously as Catholic authorities. Other factors contributing to the spread of science included better technology, especially in telescopes and microscopes; state support for science in places like England and France; and increased literacy among Europeans. 

Source: John Merriman, A History of Modern Europe, Vol. 1 (New York: W.W. Norton, 1996)327-352.

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