Renaissance Scientific Movement Critical Essays


(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

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.