Main Currents of Scientific Thought: A History of the Sciences

Main Currents of Scientific Thought: A History of the Sciences

Main Currents of Scientific Thought: A History of the Sciences

Main Currents of Scientific Thought: A History of the Sciences

Excerpt

Science, as we know it today, was a comparatively late product of the general development of human civilization. Prior to the modern period of history, we cannot say that there was much of a scientific tradition, distinct from the tradition of the philosophers on the one hand, and that of the craftsmen on the other. The roots of science, however, ran deep, stretching back to the period before the appearance of civilization. No matter how far back in history we go there were always some techniques, facts, and conceptions, known to craftsmen or scholars, which were scientific in character, though before modern times such knowledge in general was subordinate to the requirements of either the philosophical or the craft tradition. Philosophical considerations, for example, limited the important scientific achievement of the ancient Greeks, so that both of their two main astronomical systems conflicted with observations known in antiquity.

Science had its historical roots in two primary sources. Firstly, the technical tradition, in which practical experiences and skills were handed on and developed from one generation to another; and secondly, the spiritual tradition, in which human aspirations and ideas were passed on and augmented. Such traditions existed before civilization appeared, if we are to judge by the continuity in the development of the tools used by the men of the stone age, and by their burial practices and cave paintings. In the bronze age civilizations, the two traditions appear to have been largely separate, perpetuated on the one hand by craftsmen, and on the other by corporations of priestly scribes, though the latter had some important utilitarian techniques of their own.

In the subsequent civilizations, the two traditions remained separate for the most part, though both became differentiated, the philosopher separating off from the priest and the scribe, and the artisans of one trade from those of another. There were occasional rapprochements, notably those in ancient Greece, but, in general, it was not until the late middle ages and early modern times that elements from the two traditions began to converge, and then combine, producing a new tradition, that of science. The development of science then became more autonomous, and, containing both practical and theoretical elements, science . . .

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