Chapters in Western Civilization - Vol. 1

By Columbia College | Go to book overview
Save to active project


Ernest Nagel

The intellectual revolution produced by the rise of modern science during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries consisted not only in altering radically men's conceptions of the universe and their place in it. It also involved the erection of a fresh ideal of knowledge and ultimately the construction of new instruments, both physical and intellectual, for transforming the physical and social environment. The rise of modern science was no less potent as an agent helping to discredit medieval philosophy than was the commercial civilization that replaced the medieval agricultural economy.

We will appreciate the revolutionary significance of modern science more fully, however, if we first note some of the distinctive assumptions of medieval science -- assumptions against which an experimentally based mathematical science had to contend. Medieval science was in the main ancillary to a theology that placed greater value on the salvation of man's soul than on man's ability to discover the physical conditions for the order of events. The primary concern of medieval thinkers was to understand the order of existence as illustrating the divine goodness and to see how that order ministered to man's spiritual needs. On the other hand, how man's salvation was to be achieved and in what way the facts of the universe testified to the possibility of that salvation were questions regarded as definitely settled by a fixed and complete doctrine.

The fundamental premises of this doctrine were believed to be supplied either by divine revelation or by a number of selected authorities -- the Bible and its interpretation by the Church Fathers, and eventually also Aristotle, after his writings were absorbed into the fabric of Christian thought. The physical and cosmological ideas of the medievals thus consisted of a fusion of Christian theology and Greek science. Although the medievals frequently


This chapter appeared in previous editions of Chapters in Western Civilization.


Notes for this page

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this page

Cited page

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited page

Bookmark this page
Chapters in Western Civilization - Vol. 1


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this book

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen
/ 598

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?