Natural philosophers

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  • Medieval scientists, known as “natural philosophers,” did not make observations of the world and nature so much as rely on ancient authorities, especially Aristotle, for their scientific knowledge.
  • Changes in the 1400s and 1500s caused European scientists to adopt new views and methods.


  • Renaissance humanists studied the newly discovered works of Ptolemy, Archimedes, Plato, and other ancient thinkers.
  • They learned that some ancient thinkers had disagreed with Aristotle and other accepted authorities.
  • Renaissance intellectuals such as, Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Newton, and others, developed new theories that became the foundation of the Scientific Revolution.


  • Technical problems, like calculating how much weight a ship could hold, spurred a movement towards observation and measurement.
  • New instruments like the telescope and microscope made fresh observations and discoveries possible.
  • Printing spread ideas more quickly.


  • The study of mathematics in the Renaissance contributed to the scientific achievements of the 16th and17th centuries.
  • The greatest scientists of the day believed that the secrets of nature were written in the language of mathematics.
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  • Born in the 2nd century C.E., Ptolemy was antiquity’s greatest astronomer.
  • Medieval philosophers constructed a geocentric (earth is at the center) model of the universe called the Ptolemaic system.
  • It is a series of concentric spheres with a motionless Earth in the middle.


  • Nicholas Copernicus of Poland published his famous work, On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres, in 1543.
  • He believed his heliocentric (with the sun at the center) system was more accurate than the Ptolemaic system.
  • Copernicus argued that all the planets revolved around the sun, the Moon revolved around Earth, and Earth rotated on its axis.


  • The German mathematician, Johannes Kepler also helped destroy the Ptolemaic system.
  • His observations confirmed that the Sun was at the center of the universe, and he traced the elliptical orbits of the planets.
  • Ptolemy had insisted that the orbits were circular.


  • The Italian scientist and mathematician Galileo Galilei answered one of the two remaining questions for the new astronomy.
  • What are the planets made of ?
  • He was the 1st European to make regular observations with a telescope.


  • Galileo saw mountains on the Moon and the 4 moons orbiting Jupiter.
  • Ptolemy had said the heavenly bodies were pure orbs of light, but now it appeared they were material.
  • Galileo’s work began to make Europeans aware of the new view of the universe.


  • Galileo got into trouble with the Catholic Church, which ordered him to abandon the new system because the Copernican conception contradicted that of the Church and the Bible.
  • In the Copernican system, the heavens were not spiritual but material, and God no longer in a a specific place.
  • Most astronomers now believed the new conception.


  • The Englishman Isaac Newton responded to the 2nd question for the new conception of the universe.
  • What explains motion in the universe?
  • He was a mathematics professor at Cambridge University.


  • Newton published his views in Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy, also known as the Principia.
  • He defined the 3 laws of motion in the universe.
  • Crucial to his view was the universal law of gravitation: every object in the universe is attracted to every other object by a force called gravity.
  • This explains why planetary bodies did not go off in a straight line, but traveled in elliptical orbits.

The Scientific Revolution

  • What did the writings of Ptolomy and Archimedes make obvious?
  • What new invention helped to spread new scientific ideas quickly and safely?
  • Where is earth placed in the universe according to the Ptolemeic system?
  • What discoveries did Galileo make using a telescope?
  • Why did the Church order Galileo to abandon the Copernican idea of the nature of the universe?
  • What did Isaac Newton define in his first book? Name the book?
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  • The new anatomy of the 16th century was based on the work of Andreas Vesalius, published in his On the Fabric of the Human Body (1543).
  • He reported his results from dissecting human bodies as a professor of surgery at the University of Padua, presenting an accurate view of the individual organs and general structure of the human body.
  • He erroneously believed that the body had 2 kinds of blood.


  • William Harvey’s On the Motion of the Heart and Blood (1628) showed that the heart, not the liver as Galen had thought was the beginning point of the blood’s circulation.
  • He also showed that the same blood runs through veins and arteries and that the blood makes a complete circuit through the body.
  • Harvey’s work was based on close observation and experiment.


  • The work of Robert Boyle in chemistry was also based on close observation and experiment.
  • He formulated Boyle’s Law about gases-the volume of a gas varies with the pressure exerted on it.
  • In the 18th century, Antoine Lavoisier, the founder of modern chemistry, invented a system of naming the chemical elements.
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  • One of the most prominent female scientists of the 17th century was Margaret Cavendish.
  • In works such as her Observations Upon Experimental Philosophy, she criticized the belief that humans, through science, were the masters of the universe.


  • Maria Winkelmann was the most famous woman astronomer; she assisted her husband in their observatory, and discovered a comet.
  • She was denied a post as assistant astronomer at the Berlin Academy because in the view of most people of the 17th century, science and scholarship conflicted with the domestic roles women were expected to fulfill.
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René Descartes

  • 17th century French philosopher, Descartes, wrote about the doubt and uncertainty that seamed to be everywhere at the time.
  • In his most famous work, Discourse on Method, in 1637 emphasized the importance of reason in relation to truth.
  • A famous quote that came from this thought is- “I think, therefore I am.”

Descartes 2nd Principle

  • Descartes used his reason to arrive at a 2nd principle.
  • He argued that because “the mind cannot be doubted but the body and material world can; the two must be radically different.”
  • Descartes has rightly been called the father of modern rationalism (reason is the chief source of knowledge).
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The Scientific Method

  • The scientific method is a systematic procedure for collecting and analyzing evidence.
  • Francis Bacon, a British philosopher, believed that instead of relying on the ideas of ancient authorities, scientists should use inductive reasoning (to proceed from the particular to the general).


  • Bacon stated that the “true and lawful goal of the sciences is none other than this: that human life is empowered with new discoveries and power.”
  • He wanted science to benefit industry, agriculture and trade.

Science and Medicine

  • What did William Harvey write?
  • What were Harvey’s observations and experiments showing him?
  • What field of science in Germany provided opportunities for women?
  • Name women of the Scientific Revolution?
  • What did René Descartes emphasize and assert were essential for knowledge?
  • Who developed the scientific method and what is it exactly?
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  • The Enlightenment was an 18th century philosophical movement of intellectuals who were greatly impressed by the achievements of the Scientific Revolution.
  • Reason, natural law, hope and progress were common words used by the thinkers of the Enlightenment.


  • Englishman, John Locke, in his 18th century Essay Concerning Human Understanding argued that everyone was born with a tabula rasa (a blank mind).
  • He suggested that people were molded by personal experiences and influences, which caused people to look for societal change.
  • He said, “Law should come from the consent of the people.”


  • Using Newton’s methods, people believed that they could discover the natural laws that all institutions should follow to produce the ideal society.


  • The intellectuals of the Enlightenment were known by the French name philosophe, meaning philosopher.
  • They were writers, professors, journalists, economists and above all else social reformers.


  • Charles-Louise de Secondat, the Baron de Montesquieu, came from French nobility.
  • His Spirit of the Laws was published in 1748.
  • He tried to find the natural laws that govern the social and political relationships of human beings.

Three Basic Governments

  • Montesquieu identified 3 basic types of governments:
  • Republics, suitable for small states.
  • Depotism, appropriate for large states.
  • Monarchies, ideal for moderate-sized states.
  • He also argued for a 3 branch government system; Executive, Legislative and Judicial.


  • Francois Marie-Arouet, known simply as Voltaire, was a writer of pamphlets, novels, plays, letters, essays and histories. He was wealthy.
  • Famously known for his criticism of Christianity and promoted religious tolerance in his 1763 Treatise on Toleration.
  • He said, “I may not agree with what you believe, but I will fight to the death, your right to believe it.”

Adam Smith

  • Scottish philosopher, Adam Smith, helped found modern social sciences and economics.
  • He and a group of French Physiocrats advocated for the concept of laissez-faire (meaning to let the people do what they want)


  • French philosophe,in his Discourse on the Origins of the Inequality of Mankind, he argued that people were enslaved by the government by the property that they owned.
  • In his most famous work, The Social Contract, he argued that in the contract an entire society agrees to be governed by its general will.
  • “This means nothing else than [they] will be forced to be free,” said Rousseau.
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  • For centuries men argued that women were inferior to men because it was in their nature to be dominated by men.
  • The English writer, Mary Wollstonecraft, in her Vindication of the Rights of Women, identified 2 problems with the thinkers of the Enlightenment.

Vindication of the Rights of Women

  • Mary Wollstonecraft argued that most of Enlightenment thinkers did not want the strong control of a monarchy system.
  • She said it was the same power that men wanted over women that was wrong. She claimed that this point should be obvious to men.
  • She also claimed that women had reason, like men, they are all entitled to the same rights as men.

Enlightenment Thinkers

  • . Define philosophe.
  • Who suggested that government should have a separation of powers?
  • What 3 branches of government did he say were important? Who is he?
  • What is laissez-faire? Who believed in it?
  • What is a social contract? Did Montesquieu support it or was it someone else?
  • Who was the woman who wanted more political freedoms for women? What were her 2 main arguments?

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