The Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment

Topics: Scientific method, Scientific revolution, Science Pages: 9 (3362 words) Published: May 16, 2012
The Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment

The seventeenth century opened a new era in world history. In the economic sphere it was manifested in the intensive decomposition of feudal property relations, in the beginning of classical period in the history of manufacture, in the formation of European and world capitalist market. In political sphere the new era meant a gradual degeneration of the old absolutism, its crisis and the advent of a new phase of its evolution, when the internal and external policy of absolute monarchy was strongly connected with the interests of the nobility. This meant the beginning of the phase of decline and decay of absolutism. Finally, the spiritual life of the 17th century witnessed a scientific and worldview revolution – coming of the rationalist world view, which replaced the traditional theological worldview. It was the enlightenment of mind, which—in most European countries—turned out to be ideological basis of future social upheavals in the course of revolutions of the 18-19th centuries. It was also a time when it was first accepted that knowledge of nature and its processes could best be understood by close observation and by mathematical analysis, and when it was first realized that the operations of nature followed precise law-like rules. Since the middle of the 17th century the feudal system in Europe has entered a final phase of general crisis. The Scientific Revolution of the 16-17th Centuries

The 16th century is the era of profound contradictions: it gave birth to Erasmus and Montaigne, but it was also the era of the Council of Trent; the new astronomy was combined with the flowering of astrology, the revival of mathematics was followed by popularity of magic and alchemy. The mentality of this century was founded on the wisdom of the ancients, and at the same time it was based on the perceptions and wisdom of the new time. Wild superstitions existed side by side with refined and skeptical minds, and amazing erudition with an equally amazing credulity, which was ready to classify fiction and fantasy as knowledge. Finally, despite the spread of printing, the perception of information still relied upon hearing, which had an advantage over seeing. In other words, the 16th century was the century of unrest of minds, shocking of foundations, rising of the human spirit and a deep skepticism regarding the authenticity of its conquests. The 17th century became the first century of the new science, i.e. science in the modern sense of the word. Although it may seem, that new eras arise unexpectedly, a more detailed study of the problem reveals that they are being prepared gradually, during a very long time. For example, the idea of the infinity of the universe and rotation of Earth was suggested by Nicholas of Kues in the middle of the 15th century. Any change in philosophical paradigms even of the universal scale begins with a light and barely noticeable shift of emphasis. But that’s why the final amazing result of such shifts is perceived as unexpected and astonishing for contemporaries. To analyze the issue of the Enlightenment it is crucial to note the paramount importance of shifts in the conditions of human existence, and role of these shifts in the appearance of experimental science. First of all it concerns the important acquisitions of European society in the sphere of material production, invention of gunpowder and firearms, compass and new equipment of ships, air pump and iron-melting furnaces, machines with a mechanical drive, etc. Francis Bacon in his philosophical work Novum Organum (1620) wrote that “the introduction of great inventions appears one of the most distinguished of human actions” (Bacon 104). The second of these shifts abruptly changed not only the role of science in the progress of European civilization, but also literally revolutionized world-view as a whole. Invention of printing proved to be a blessing for the future of mankind in all...

Cited: Bacon, Francis. Novum Organum (1620). Forgotten Books, 1955. Available at
Cobban, Alfred. In Search of Humanity: The Role of the Enlightenment in Modern History. New York: George Braziller, 1960.
Henry, John. “Science and the Coming of Enlightenment.” The Enlightenment World. Ed. Martin Fitzpatrick, Peter Jones, Christa Knellwolf, Iain McCalman. London: Routledge, 2004.
Schouls, Peter. “Certainty, Tradition and Transcendence.” The Enlightenment World. Ed. Martin Fitzpatrick, Peter Jones, Christa Knellwolf, Iain McCalman. London: Routledge, 2004.
Spinoza, Baruch. Ethics. Translated from the Latin by R.H.M. Elwes (1883). Available at
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