Skeptical and Natural Philosophy

The Scientific Revolution

What was so revolutionary about the scientific revolution?

What was revolutionary about the scientific revolution was how it emphasized objectivity and the need to look for natural causes for observable events. Many new inventions, such as telescopes, microscopes, thermometers, barometers, air pumps, and electric charge detectors, aided in this new endeavor. The principle of objectivity played out in public discovery, observation, and experimentation that could be duplicated for verification. (To be accepted, however, important experiments required credible witnesses—usually men of substantial social status.)

The goal of exact measurement and descriptions that could be quantified made mathematics a permanent part of science. But the pre-Socratics had already sought naturalistic explanations for natural events and emphasized the importance of number, so those aspects of the scientific revolution were not new. The early modern methods of objectivity were innovative, nevertheless. As the twentieth century historian and philosopher of science Thomas Kuhn (1922–1996) pointed out, the classical sciences of antiquity were astronomy, statics (bodies at rest or forces in equilibrium) and optics, which were all associated with mathematics and harmonics, so that advances in one led to advances in the others. In the sixteenth century, local motion (as something different from Aristotle’s idea of motion as qualitative change) was added to the mathematical sciences.


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