Prophets of a Scientific Civilization: Bacon and Descartes



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7.32: Prophets of a Scientific Civilization: Bacon and Descartes

  • Chapter 7: The Scientific View of the World

Scientific Revolution

  • 1543 1572 1580 1620 1627 1632 1637 1687
  • Montaigne’s Essays
  • Bacon’s Norganum Organum
  • Descartes’ Discourse on Method
  • Copernicus’ On the Revolutions of Heavenly Orbs (1543)
  • Johann Kepler’s Rudolphine Tables
  • Galileo’s Discourse Concerning the Two Chief Systems
  • Newton’s Principia

Medieval, Renaissance, and Reformation man

  • Medieval, Renaissance, and Reformation man
  • past knowledge as the most reliable source of wisdom
    • Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas
  • Geocentric (Ptolemaic) world
    • 8-10 crystal (hierarchical spheres
    • 4 elements/ 4 humours
    • Great Chain of Being
      • Hierarchical link from God down to insects
  • abstract wisdom would help man turn away from the corruptibility of the earth
  • Enlightenment man
  • rejected ancient authority
    • relied on their own observable intellects
      • Modern Science
        • A fusion of experimental observation & mathematics
  • Heliocentric world
    • Sun-centered
    • World Machine
      • Universe was demystified & worked like a mechanical clock (predictable & understandable, orderly and harmonious
  • saw knowledge as useless unless it could be put to use “the relief of man’s estate”

Science before the Seventeenth Century

  • Can we mark the advent of sceince with Leonardo?
    • Anatomy, astronomy, engineer
    • dissected over 30 bodies
    • conceived of circulation of the blood
    • movement of the earth around the sun
    • designed submarines, airplanes
    • BUT didn’t publish anything
    • Isolated genius and did not transmit his ideas to others
  • SCIENCE depends on the transmission of ideas

The Skeptics

  • Skepticism is the doctrine that knowledge is not possible, either about some particular topic, e.g. religion or the natural world or mathematics -- or in general
  • Doubting frame of mind, held that no certain knowledge is possible for human beings, all beliefs are only customs
  • Montaigne (1533-92)
    • French Renaissance thinker
    • Essays (1580)
      • Studies himself (thoughts, habits, beliefs) to better understand mankind
      • Que sais-je? What do I know? Answer: Nothing
  • Positive about skepticism: challenge and question everything and be tolerant, broadminded
  • Negative: fatalism, Oh well
  • Michel de Montaigne

Fathers of Scientific Revolution

  • Fathers of Scientific Revolution
  • Go beyond skeptics
  • Truth
    • is not postulated from the start and then worked within a paradigm
    • It is something found at the end of long process or investigation, experiment, observation
  • How is truth attained?
  • inductive reasoning
    • proceeding from the particular to the general, from concrete to abstract
      • This ice is cold.
      • All ice is cold.
  • deductive-
    • start with general information and infer specific
      • All apples are fruit.
      • All fruits grow on trees.
      • Therefore all apples grow on trees.
  • True and reliable knowledge exists and can be employed to the benefit of humans
  • Bacon and Descartes 1620 to 1640
  • In the Center is a bust of the Society's Founder - Charles II
  • Left is William Brouncker- The first President
  • On the Right is Francis Bacon the Inspiration of the Royal Society

Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626)

  • Novum Organum (New Instrument) (1620)
  • The New Atlantis (1627)
  • championed empiricism-
  • wanted people to rid themselves of preconceptions, traditional ideas and look with fresh eyes, use their senses
  • portrayed a scientific utopia: society based on the results of science
    • Inhabitants enjoyed a perfect society through knowledge and control of nature
  • Usefulness of knowledge became main element of Baconian tradition
  • It can be used for practical purposes
    • ex. Weapon are more accurate (science of ballistics)
  • Called on scientist to share their knowledge by recording their experiments and to rid themselves of superstition and religion in science (he called philosophy)
  • Fails to recognize importance of mathematics
    • It proceeds deductively from axioms to theorems
  • Science is both inductive and deductive

Rene Descartes (1596-1650)

  • All knowledge of past should be discarded
  • Considered the inventor of coordinate geometry
  • Any algebraic formula could be plotted as a curve in space and any curve in space could be converted into an algebraic term
  • Knowledge is worthy if it is useful to mankind

Discourse on Method (1637)

  • Discourse on Method (1637)
    • Proposed the principle of systematic doubt
    • 1st rule was “never to receive anything as a truth which he did not clearly know to be such”
    • after doubting everything he realized his mere process of thought confirmed his own existence (I think, therefore I am) (Cogito ergo sum)
    • used this as his starting point and began to reconstruct the universe, the existence of God
  • could not be empirically verified but he believed that nature is so small that it eludes our senses anyway
  • Rene Descartes (1596-1650)

Descartes Influence

  • Although his system of thought did not reveal any new discoveries it did help disprove errors of ancients
  • Stress on math to pursue science proved invaluable
  • Cartesian Dualism-God created two kinds of reality:
    • Thinking Substance-
      • Mind, spirit, consciousness
        • subjective experience
    • Extended Substance-
      • matter, & everything outside the mind
        • Objective experience

Mind belonged to man alone

  • Mind belonged to man alone
  • Everything else was matter and operated according to physical laws
  • everything else was a machine
  • therefore the entire universe could be understood without the help of religion
  • apparent attribute to matter (sound, light, taste) were subjective impressions of the mind and not subject to science
  • The natural world can be controlled!
  • Descartes Influence


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