Histographical Essay

Histographical Essay-84
According to Peter Dear, work by Jesuit scholars on astronomy and optics helped foster the idea of experiment in the seventeenth in part their Aristotelian roots: “The Aristotelian model of a science adopted by the Jesuits took scientific knowledge to be fundamentally public: scientific demonstration invoked necessary connections between terms formulated in principles that commanded universal assent.” Dear studied the work of the Jesuit scholars Giuseppe Biancani (1566–1624) and Christoph Scheiner (1573–1650) and noted that they “employed techniques designed to incorporate recondite, constructed experiences into properly accredited knowledge about the natural world,” thereby turning experience into experiment.Both Heilbron and Dear show Jesuits working within a non-Copernican context in astronomy and an Aristotelian tradition in philosophy and yet participating in early modern advances in science in important ways.

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The inventor of this instrument was Otto von Guericke (1602–86), who claimed that it could create a vacuum.

But according to Aristotelian physics, a vacuum was impossible.

Historians have begun to realize that the focus on Aristotelian philosophy could still be useful, and contributions to the study of science, even in astronomy and physics, could be made without adopting Copernican astronomy.

They have begun to understand that progress in unraveling the secrets of the natural world resulted not just from the work of a few giants but also from lesser individuals and from groups.

The period in the history of science that concentrates on the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries has traditionally been called “the Scientific Revolution.” This narrative, which held sway for about two hundred years, maintained that it began with the proposal of a heliocentric universe by Copernicus, concentrating on those developments in astronomy and physics that confirmed his hypothesis, and ended with Isaac Newton (1642–1727) and his associates.

This was a story of great men of science who, rightly according to its adherents, rejected the Aristotelian physics and Ptolemaic astronomy that was impeding human understanding of the natural world.As Herbert Butterfield, whose is one of the most popular, readable versions of this narrative, wrote, it “overturned the authority in science not only of the middle ages but of the ancient world – since it ended not only in the eclipse of scholastic philosophy but in the destruction of Aristotelian physics – it outshines everything since the rise of Christianity.” Individuals and institutions that were seen as impeding the progress of science, especially through their adherence to Aristotelian principles, were dismissed as villains in this story.The Catholic Church was a blatantly evil institution because it not only opposed Copernican astronomy but persecuted Galileo for promoting it.The Jesuit educators had to be well-trained in these mathematical sciences, and in order to teach them well they had to practice them.Heilbron gives prominence to the Jesuits as both teachers and practitioners in the fields of astronomy and physics in his book, .Bernard Barthet and Antonella Romano turned to the Jesuits in France.Barthet noted that French Jesuits often used the occult, particularly alchemy, magic, and Kabbalah, to help explain certain phenomena, such as magnetism, motion, matter, and optics, which they studied in France during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.In this period subjects that are anathema to today’s scientific community—magic, astrology, alchemy—were studied and accepted as valid scientific pursuits.They included other subjects, like cartography and chronology, in their study of nature.On the other hand, scholars who focused on early modern science began to notice not just the continuities with medieval science but also the often vast differences between their subject and modern science.They have pointed out how the use of the terms “science” and “scientist” was anachronistic, for early modern scholars studied natural philosophy in the universities, and there was no professional class of scientists.


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