One of the generally established positions considering the scientific revolution of the XVII century is that the European science (primarily related to the classical natural sciences) originated from it. It is interesting that it emerged at once in the interrelation of all components: theoretical knowledge, its rationale and mathematical description, experimental testing, social structure with network of scientific communication and public application. Among the phrases that can best show the way of thinking that started acting at that time, there is one William Gilbert wrote in his Preface: “LIFE is a Chemical Process: In that of every Individual there has been some new material thrown in, or a new mode has been adopted, of conducting the process; the result is always interesting; for the subject of the experiment is Man” (Gilbert 1).
When analyzing this period, the main focus usually lies on the relationship between cognitive, social and psychological factors of the formation process of the new science, its difference from what might be called “not science.” The sources for the subject study were first published works of creators of the natural sciences, humanities and technical direction of the new time – from Francis Bacon, Descartes, Galileo Galilei to Newton.
If we consider the geography of the period, we will see that it involves a lot of European countries and cities, but is it possible to distinguish Italy at the beginning and Britain at the end as major research centers. This period of time has also specific criterion of periodization associated with understanding of the phenomenon of the scientific revolution. Three stages can be singled out. The first, related primarily to the activities of Galileo – the formation of a new scientific paradigm, the second – with Descartes – the formation of the theoretical and methodological foundations of the new science, and the third – with Newton – completion of the new scientific paradigm – the beginning of the modern science.
A large number of works of different character were devoted to the development of science in the XVII century: multi-volume works of Galileo, Descartes, Leibniz, Newton, detailed biographies, correspondences, historical research of natural science, philosophical and sociological character.
While not everyone agrees with the definition of scientific revolution, first introduced in 1939 by A. Koyré and subsequently used successfully by T. Kuhn, but all agree that it was in the XVII century when science was established – the classical science of the modern type. In this regard, the XVII century as a complete historical phenomenon is extremely important for understanding the genesis and the present state of science. It further results in what Descartes wrote in his work: “And thereby make ourselves, as it were, the lords and masters of nature” (Descartes 44)
The basis for the new type of world view, the new science was laid by Galileo. He began to create it as a mathematical and experimental science. The starting point was the argument that for clear judgments formation about the nature, scientists have to regard only objective properties – those that can be measured accurately, while properties available just for perception should be ignored as subjective and ephemeral. Only through quantitative analysis of science it is possible to get the right knowledge about the world. In order to go deeper into the mathematical laws and understand the true sense of nature, Galileo perfected and invented a lot of technical equipment – lenses, telescopes, microscopes, magnet, air thermometer, barometer, etc. The use of these devices gave empiricism new dimension unknown to the Greeks. Former scholastic deductive thinking about the universe had to give way to its experimental study to comprehend its existing impersonal mathematical laws. Galileo found a scientific point of contact between inductive and deductive methods of the nature study, making it possible to link the scientific thinking, impossible without abstraction and idealization, with a particular perception of the phenomena and processes of nature.
Galileo discoveries in mechanics play a very important role for the modern science, because with completely new categories and new methodology, he decided to destroy the dogmatic construction dominant in the Aristotelian scholastic physics, based on superficial observations and speculative calculations, overflowing with teleological notions of motion of things in accordance with their nature and the aim of the natural and violent movements of the natural heaviness and lightness of bodies, perfection of circular motion as compared to straight, etc. Based on the criticism of Aristotelian physics, Galileo created his program of science building.
Galileo developed dynamics – the science of the motion of bodies under the influence of the applied forces. He formulated the first laws of the free fall of bodies, gave a strict definition of the concept of speed and acceleration, realized the critical properties of the motion of bodies, which later was called inertia. His ideas on the relativity of motion were very valuable. Philosophical and methodological importance of the laws of mechanics discovered by Galileo was huge, because for the first time in the history of human thought the concept of natural law in the modern sense was formulated. Galileo’s laws of motion together with his astronomical discoveries led up the physical basis to the Copernican theory, which its creator himself did not have yet. Heliocentric doctrine was becoming a theory from the hypothesis.
Newton was the one to complete the Copernican revolution. He proved the existence of gravity as a universal force – the one that makes rocks fall to the Earth and is the cause of the closed orbit of the planets revolving around the sun. Newton’s merit was also the fact that he united the mechanistic philosophy of Descartes, Kepler’s laws of planetary motion and Galileo’s law of motion of the Earth, bringing them into a comprehensive theory. After a series of mathematical discoveries, Newton draw a conclusion: for the planets to be held on stable orbits with respective velocities and at appropriate distances, determined by the Kepler’s third law, a certain force should be drawing them to the Sun, which is inversely proportional to the square of distance from the Sun. Bodies falling on the Earth are also subject to this law (it is not only about stones, but also the moon – both terrestrial and celestial phenomena). Moreover, on the basis of this law Newton mathematically deduced the elliptical form of the planetary orbits and change in their speeds, following the definitions of the first and the second laws of Kepler (Huff 157). A response was obtained to the most important cosmological issues that supporters of Copernicus faced – what causes the motion of the planets, how they manage to keep within their orbits, and why heavy objects fall to the Earth. The dispute about the structure of the universe and the relationship between celestial and terrestrial was settled. Copernican hypothesis generated a need for a new, comprehensive and independent cosmology and now it was found.
With the help of the three laws of motion (the law of inertia, law of acceleration and the law of equal and opposite reaction) and the law of universal gravitation Newton not only formed the scientific foundation for Kepler’s laws, but also explained the tides, orbits of comets, the trajectory of cannonballs and other projectiles. All the known phenomena of celestial and terrestrial mechanics were then brought under a single set of physical laws. Confirmation for the views of Descartes, who believed that nature was perfectly ordered mechanism obeying to the mathematical laws, was found.
The main achievement of the scientific revolution was the collapse of the medieval picture of the antique world and the emergence of new traits of the worldview that allowed for creation of the modern science. Natural science ideology foundation was made by the following notions and approaches: naturalism – the idea of self-sufficiency of nature, driven by natural, objective laws; mechanism – view of the world as a machine consisting of elements of varying degrees of importance and generality, the rejection of previously dominant symbolic and hierarchical approach that represented each item in the world as an organic part of the holistic being; quantitativity – a universal method of quantitative comparison and evaluation of all the objects and phenomena in the world, the rejection of the quality of thinking of antiquity and the Middle Ages; causal automatism – a rigid determination of all phenomena and processes in the world with natural reasons that can be described by the laws of mechanics ; analytism – origin of the analytical work over synthetic in thinking of scientists, non-abstract speculations characteristic of antiquity and the Middle Ages; geometrism – approval of an infinite homogeneous picture, describing the geometry of Euclid and managed by unified cosmic laws of the universe (Osler 28).
The second most important result of the scientific revolution was the connection of speculative natural philosophy traditions of antiquity and medieval science and craft and technical activities with industry. Another result of the scientific revolution was the adoption of the hypothetico-deductive method of learning. The basis of this method is the core of the modern science, forming a logical conclusion of the accepted hypotheses and their subsequent empirical verification.
Overall, the main conclusions of the scientific revolution can be summarized in the following way: Old Space was outdated and destroyed; the new picture of the world was formed, replacing the old cosmos, which was more or less like a huge clock – it had nothing alive and indefinite and, it seemed, that everything could be calculated (Kepler’s determinism). Science found its mechanisms and procedures for the construction of theoretical knowledge, and self-test, its language, especially in its mathematical form, which became the flesh of the method. Science became a social system – its own professional organizations were founded, as well as print media, the whole infrastructure (including special tools). Specific rules and codes of conduct, channels of communication were also created. Through distribution of scientific principles, science becomes a powerful intellectual force – a school of “correct” thinking – affecting specific processes in a variety of forms. Growing out of mysticism, science was gradually overcoming it.
Descartes. Discourse on Method in Discourse on Method and Related Writings. Trans. Desmond M. Clarke. New York: Penguin edition, 1999. Print.
Gilbert, William. “Preface.” Williamgilbert.com. n.d. Web. 16 Nov. 2012.
Huff, Toby E. Intellectual Curiosity and the Scientific Revolution: A Global Perspective. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010. Print.
Osler, Margaret J. Rethinking the Scientific Revolution. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000. Print.