Philosophical Foundations for the Scientific Revolution

<Origin & Impetus for the Scientific Revolution>
  • rooted in the history of Renaissance
  • increased general prosperity (from the expansion of trade globally since the Renaissance and the Age of Exploration)
  • widened intellectual horizons → challenged old Christian doctrines
  • willingness to attack the fundamental assumptions about the Universe and the human mind
  • There were several notable figures who eventually gave rise to the way of thinking of the Scientific Revolution (aka Scientific Method)

<Francis Bacon (1561 - 1626)>
  • insisted in doubting the accepted knowledge
  • 2 notable works
    • Novum Organum (A Treatise on the Method of Acquiring Knowledge) (1620)
    • The Advancement of Learning (1623)
  • Formulated the Inductive Method of thinking
  • Features of Inductive Method by Francis Bacon
    • Observation first → Accumulation of facts of surroundings → Discovery of new laws which govern them.
    • Usefulness of an idea is determined by whether it is worth-discussing and if it can be applied practically

<Rene Descartes (1596 - 1650)>
  • Father of Rationalism
  • Philosophy on the basis of a systematic questioning of received truths via Deductive Method (Rationalism)
  • Deductive Method: Simple, self-evident truths or axioms leading to products of truths (e.g. just like how mathematical laws/principles lead to the next laws/principles/rules) → Man can deduce a sound body of universal knowledge
  • Famous works  & quotes
    • Discourse on Method (1637)
    • “I think, therefore I am.”
  • also proposed Cartesian “dualism”
    • The world is composed of mind (from God) and matter (which follows a general mechanistic pattern).
  • Hence, gave rise to rationalism, mechanism (the concept of mechanical world) and dualism.

<Implications of Baconism and Cartesianism>
  • Those now living [people] not only possessed the right but were charged with a duty to reassess the past and, when warranted, to reject its assumptions.

<Benedict Spinoza>
  • developed a philosophy which incorporated rationalism and mechanism, but not the Cartesian dualism.
  • proclaimed with sound evidence that the single substance in the universe is God. (Pantheism: the view that Universe (Nature) and God are identical)
    • intended to express the scientific notions of the unity of nature and the continuity of cause and effect
  • interested in ethical questions (e.g. Is greed good or bad for humanity?)
  • claimed that: we gain true freedom (and serenity) by realising that we are not free (in the order of nature which is unalterably fixed). → similar to accepting one’s fate
  • was an earnest apostle of tolerance, justice and rational living
    • believed in religious liberty

<Thomas Hobbes>
  • believed that geometry furnished the only proper method of discovering philosophical truth
  • against Cartesian dualism and pantheism of Spinoza
  • mentioned that the origin of all knowledge is in sense perception (we discover knowledge; God did not predetermine it for us)
  • Nothing exists except matter
    • Nothing is spiritual anywhere in the universe of which he man can conceive. → Basis of Materialism

<John Locke (1632 - 1704)>
  • consolidated Hobbes’ idea of acquiring knowledge via sense perception
  • All knowledge originates from sense perception → Through experience, we perceive/learn/gain new knowledge.
    • This sense perception (sensation), together with reason, was indispensable in finding a usable body of general truth.
  • Famous works
    • Two Treatises of Civil Government
    • Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690)
  • More on Essay Concerning Human Understanding
    • theory of “a tabula rasa” → Human mind at birth is a blank tablet which we fill in with knowledge we gain via sense perception and reason
    • implies that human mind is not controlled and intervened by divine beings, but humans can sense and think autonomously
    • hence, this freed men and women from the restraints of received beliefs
    • also stated that the environment which Man can manipulate (e.g. education) affects the human perception of right and wrong, hence good environment made by humans will do good to humanity. → Locke’s optimism

<Issac Newton (1642 - 1727)>
  • Notable works
    • Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy (aka Principia Mathematica) (1697)
      • For the first time in the human history, a single, coherent mechanical theory/law for the understanding of the universe
      • e.g. The Law of Gravity (Universal Gravitation) → allowed: measurements of tides, locating the ships and predictability of a cannon ball’s trajectory
    • Optiks

<Implications of Newton’s wrok>
  1. It is the task of all thoughtful people to challenge the received opinions of the past, to think matters out for themselves anew.
  2. Nature is rational universal laws, not by mysterious divine intervention nor by caprice.
  3. The human race can discover those universal laws and put them to use to ensure the progress of the human race.
  • Basically, Newton was the culmination and fruit of the previous intellectual contributions made by other philosophers like Francis Bacon, Rene Descartes, Galileo Galilei, Johannes Kepler and Nicolaus Corpernicus.
More on Newton

Western Civilizations: Their History and Their Culture (9th Edition) by Edward McNall Burns, Robert E. Lerner & Standish Meacham

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