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Skeptical and Natural Philosophy

The Scientific Revolution

Does everyone now believe the scientific revolution was good for humanity?

Few can deny the value of an objective, factual understanding of the natural world. Modern technology that resulted from this knowledge has prolonged life, added to comfort, and made all human beings more mobile. There is also an understanding that knowledge should be open and that science is subject to revision, which goes back to the early days of the Royal Society. However, in the second half of the twentieth century, the objectivity of early modern science and its values were questioned by historians and cultural critics. Concerning the high value placed on experimentation, for example, it has been discovered that many of the experiments reported by Galileo (1564–1642) and Boyle (1627–1691) were thought experiments from which they deduced the facts, instead of having directly observed them. And Newton (1643–1727) himself did not actually base his three laws of motion on experimental data, as much as he logically deduced them from more abstract theoretical commitments.

On the cultural side, Francis Bacon’s (1561–1626) perspective was based on assumptions that Earth and its creatures were all raw material for the manipulation and use of mankind. There was no sense that nature had value in its own right. In addition, some feminist critics have viewed the scientific revolution as a radical turn away from an ancient and medieval view of Earth as a living, organic whole, or mother to all who lived on it. They claim that this change in perspective privileged aggression and violence as virtues, compared to harmony and nurturance. Many crafts such as tanning, dying, and brewing, but most important, midwifery, became closed to women, as male practitioners took them over, based on “more scientific” principles, and moved them out of private households.



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