Modern Western Civilization
Class 6: Origins of the Scientific Revolution
We are now starting on the great intellectual revolutions that lead to the modern world - The Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment.
We are going to look at the pre-modern ways of thinking that were the starting point for so many later developments.
This is looking at what we call intellectual history or the history
The chronology here overlaps. What is often see as the start of the Scientific Revolution, Copernicus in 1543, occurs at the same time as pre-modern religious wars are breaking out.
It is also important to realise that people who are very advanced
in one area of thought may be very archaic in other areas.
II. Pre-Modern Ways of Thinking
These include medieval traditions, and seeds of what was to come.
Pre-modern ways of thought co-existed with what we call modern
for long periods.
Ways of Thinking
A. Scientific Thought
a. Aristotle, 384-322 BC
Science was only a part of what he did. He is also important as
a founder of political science, literary criticism, biology, pure
b. Notable Theories of Aristotle with regard to the Scientific
c. Aristotle and the Church
Aristotle's ideas fitted in with some religious theories. Also
due to great influence of Thomas Aquinas (1225-74) he was given
great regard in the Church.
2. The Ptolemaic System
a. Ptolemy, 90-168AD (Claudius Ptolemaeus).
B. Magical Thought
In practice science was not clearly distinct from magic. One of
main motives for intellectuals throughout the Middle Ages and
the Renaissance was to look back at the admired thinkers of the
past (EMPHASISE) so along with logic and the art of the past,
the rather large amount of magical and symbolic thought
of the past was retrieved.
This involved trying to convert iron to gold or to find some elixir of life. It was based on Greek science.
Chemistry was in fact a subject that did not advance for a long
time, possibly because of an obsession with alchemy, but notion
of mutability of matter was there.
This thought that events in the heavens effect events on Earth
and was pre-Aristotelian, but Aristotle's idea of contiguous motion
gave a scientific rationale to it. The idea of a Chain of Being
is important here. It was fitted into a Christian world view by
saying that the stars affected the lower nature of people, while
the higher parts still had free will.
The Witch craze in 16th and 17th century Europe. Old women killed in the hundreds, especially in Scotland. The people at the time really believed that these women had magic powers.
For very many people demons were in the air all around them.
Note the entirely different world views of people in the late Middles Ages and 16th century - both for intellectual and popular thought. Also note that these ideas persisted for a long time, alongside more modern ones, for instance look at modern newspaper astrologers.
It was hard to break out of this view of the world. Great intellects had built it up and it took enormous breadth of knowledge imagination and even hubris to change it.
The changing of the Scientific world view, was the single
most characteristic change that led to the modern world.
1. Philosophy Introduction - A Speculative Study
1. The Egg metaphor.
Image of and Egg
Philosophy tries to tie these together - as we shall see the change
in views about the nature of existence effects people's views
on what is right in politics.
2. Medieval Philosophy
The dominant philosophy of the Middle Ages had been scholasticism. It was a rigorous and logical way of looking at the world, but had become to many arid and pointless.
There was a period of torpor after Scholastism. Intellectuals
became involved in the Reformation.
3.. Renaissance Platonism
The Renaissance produced no new great synthesis in philosophy
such as scholasticsim, but there was a very important revival
of Platonism (NB Some students are studying Plato in other core
This was often seen as a sort of religion. It was far from a modern world view.
BUT Plato, and another ancient thinker Pythagoras did emphasize
maths. Plato thought maths was the surest knowledge we have. He
also emphasised simplicity, and LIKE ARISTOTLE the concept of
Order. This was, as we shall see, going to influence all scientific
It is important to note that as we approach the Modern period,
philosophy as a subject was in the doldrums. Beginning with Descartes
(1591-1650) philosophy was to be reborn.
D. Religious Thought
A. Religion Introduction
We now turn to religion. Religion united the intellectual elite and the people. From your reading you should have seen that the ways of thinking were not scientific for many. There was a pre-occupation was with God and especially SAlVATION (getting to heaven).
The thinkers we shall be examining as creators of the modern world
lived in this background.
B. The Reformation (First half of 16th Century)
II. Origins of the Scientific Revolution
The Scientific Revolution was the prelude to the wider movement
we call the Enlightenment. This revolution can be said to take
place from Copernicus to Newton.
B. Why is it a "Revolution"?
It was very slow, taking almost 150 years, but it completely altered
old ways of thinking. It was also one of the most exiting adventures
of the human mind.
C. The Causes of Scientific Revolution
1. Trade and Expansion of Trade
Navigational problems of sea voyages generated scientific research.
Overseas specimens aroused peoples interest in different worlds.
2. Medieval Universities
3. The Renaissance
The belief that there are no limits to human accomplishment (Pico
de Mirandola). This, rather than more medieval ideas, was the
precursor of modern ways of thinking.
The Reformation divided Europe. Science could go on in other countries
when Catholic Hierarchy opposed it.