The Impact of the Scientific Revolution

free essayThe period of Enlightenment took place in the 18th century and brought many new changes in the ways of understanding the world and the place of a human being in it. That was the time when new branches of science appeared, people started to look at the questions of religion, freedom, search of the truth in a different way and today, famous scientists and philosophers like Newton, Bacon, Descartes, Locke made their impact on the creation of a new way of understanding the determination of science.

The beginning of the Scientific Revolution coincided with a lot of social changes like Civil War in England and the Eighty Year’s War of Independence in Netherlands. Also, in Germany, in the 18th century, the manorial authority was transformed into private landed property as part of the liberation of peasants and the clearing of land holdings from feudal obligations (Habermas 5). That brought the reorganization of social life in big cities.

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The development of a new type of society – the bourgeoisie – and transition from the craft production to manufacture caused not only changes in political, economic and social affairs but also in the minds of the people. As a good example of how men of that time were eager to find a partner to discuss news, share discoveries and express their point of view on any issue – medical, scientific or philosophical – can serve the rapid development of a system of coffeehouses in London.

As it is mentioned in The Lost World of the London Coffeehouse, “some coffee-houses are a resort for learned scholars and for wits… others are the resort of dandies or of politicians” (Green). The author also mentions that Sir Hans Sloane and Sir Isaac Newton loved to discuss scientific questions over coffee in the decorated with taxidermy monsters coffeehouse. “The coffeehouse’s formula of maximised sociability, critical judgement, and relative sobriety proved a catalyst for creativity and innovation. Coffeehouses encouraged political debate… spawned capitalist innovations… other coffeehouses sparked journalistic innovation” (Green).

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The main factor of various social and philosophical innovations of that time was experimental science that began to develop at that time. Therefore, the 17th century is known as the period of the Scientific Revolution. The purpose of science was to substitute religion and its superstition by rational thinking. It was “inherently anticlerical and deeply suspicious of religious fanaticism and persecution” (Kramnick).

The important notion and the main creed of Enlightenment were the domination of reason over dogmatism of the worldview of previous ages. It was believed that it was the time when everything, including political and religious authority, should be questioned. As a good example of the desire to search for new discoveries can serve the statement of Immanuel Kant concerning Enlightenment that we find in The Portable Enlightenment reader: “Enlightenment is man’s release from his self-incurred tutelage… Have courage to use your own reason!” (Kramnick). It was vividly clear how the ideologists of a new conception of liberation of the human mind tried to spread their ideas and how important it was for them to reach every person. The other significant idea of Enlightenment was individualism – a man was considered to be the founder and creator of the truth, a single person took the leading role in discovering and explaining the world through scientific methods.

For a better way to understand the problems of the new philosophy of that time, we should take into consideration the new type of science. The experimental and mathematical ways of nature study which gives science the leading role in the worldview of that period and therefore, in philosophy, the questions of knowledge come in the first place. Scientists of that period suggested two ways of getting knowledge – by reason, known as rationalism, or through experience, called empiricism.

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As the founder of empiricism, Francis Bacon thought that the goal of the scientific knowledge is to understand the causality of natural phenomena so they could be used for the benefit of human kind and to give people power over nature. To achieve that, he suggested using a new method of studying things – induction. As opposed to deduction, with which you get the particular conclusion by applying general statements, induction lets one get the general conclusion by studying particular facts. In studying these particular facts, Bacon sees the correct way to study nature because every invention according to him should be based on experience, that you gain while learning every single thing separately from the system, part which it is.

These new ideas of Bacon influenced the scientific atmosphere of that time, especially in England and his works, and appeal to turn to experience inspired the future founders of the Royal Society of London, the members of which were famous scientists like Newton, Hooke, and Boyle.

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Much attempts were made to solve the question of prejudices and misconceptions that existed in people’s minds of the period of Enlightenment. Thus, one of the main functions of science was critical, and that is why a lot of thinkers of that time have built their concepts based on criticism and in a form of a doubt in people’s knowledge about the world that surrounded them.

The French scientist and philosopher, Rene Descartes, is a good representative of this kind of philosophy. His doubt was called up to totally change the former type of consciousness and traditional culture and to make way to new rational culture. When we talk about the Scientific Revolution of the 17th century, it should be mentioned that it was Descartes who was exactly that type of revolutionaries who created the science of modern history, but not only that, we can also talk about the creation of a new type of society and a new type of man.

According to Descartes, the principal of the philosophy of Enlightenment was never to consider anything as the truth if it only does not seem obvious and never to think that any judgement is correct if it gives a reason to doubt it. He thought that mathematics should become the main source of our knowledge about nature. In his concept of material and spiritual substances, he mentioned that matter with its main attribute – extension – obeys the laws of mechanics and therefore, everything around us can be discovered and explained with mathematical science – mechanics. Descartes was the first to talk about nature as of a big mechanical system, and that gave a push for trying to explain everything around with the help of science and reason.

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Historical and social sciences also evolved. Looking back at the previous ages, writers talked about the development of human race. They marked the process of evolution from simplicity to complicated civilization forms of modern time, and it was believed that this process will go on and that the progress will bring even more significant improvements of life. In addition, the evolution of scientific knowledge was considered to be the main reason for those improvements to take place.

It also should be mentioned how the political views of that time have changed being influenced by the rise of scientific progress. The idea of liberalism fitted the complex opinions changes of that period perfectly. A person was considered politically free and the idea that government is to serve people who are free to choose it was popular. Authors like Locke asserted that main purpose of government was to provide safety and to ensure the rights of its people. Thus, the absolute monarchy and the authority of the church was put into question.

The Encyclopédie, released to print in France, written by Voltaire, Russo, Montesquieu and other French thinkers, with the purpose to change the way people think, but surely not any kind of political revolution is believed to be one of those things that pushed the French Revolution to take place.

Taking into consideration the above-mentioned facts, we can surely say that the period of Enlightenment took place only thanks to the great evolution of the scientific thought in the 16th -17th centuries. That was the time when science came to the new ways of understanding the world. The transition to new theoretical and methodological premises, to a new system of fundamental notions and methods provided opportunities to bring changes in the process and the content of scientific knowledge. That led to creation of a new scientific picture of the world. It also made way to different transformations of material ways to observe and experiment, new ways of evaluation and interpretation of empirical data, with new ideals of explanation and organization of knowledge. The freedom to experiment and the search for new caused the revision of the entire system of views, not only in philosophy and science, but also in economics, politics, and religion. A person of that period at first for a long time felt free from dogmatism and tradition and opened for oneself the desire to search for something new, and that was exactly the time when the foundation for the next discoveries was created.