Disciplines & Experience

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

One of the fundamental questions in the history of science is the cause and nature of the changes in scientific thought and practice in the seventeenth century which marked the rise of modern Western science. Was the underlying cause sociological or intellectual? What were the roles, if any, of the philosopher, the artisan, the capitalist, the university professor, or the Protestant theologian in that transformation?

Responding in large part to the issues raised by Steven Shapin and Simon Schaffer in their examination of experimental science at the Royal Society of London, Dear focuses on the introduction of “experiments” into seventeenth century science: the process by which specific historical events— often contrived—replaced universal “experience” as certification for the validity of statements about nature. Seeking an answer which has implications beyond a local environment—his chief criticism of Shapin and Schaffer is its specificity—he chose as his protagonists university professors across Europe concerned with the mathematical sciences. Dear concludes that the Scientific Revolution was a result of the practices of the mathematical sciences spilling over into and changing the nature of natural philosophy. He demonstrates that it was a more gradual process than the word “revolution” implies. His argument depends heavily upon the critical examination of texts and of changing linguistic practice. Dear supplies his own translations and providing the original Latin in footnotes. To fully appreciate his reasoning, a command of Latin is necessary.