Renaissance Concepts of Method

Renaissance Concepts of Method

Renaissance Concepts of Method

Renaissance Concepts of Method

Excerpt

Not so long ago people used to think of the modern period in philosophy as beginning with the publication of Descartes' Discours de la Méthode in 1637. Descartes, with his rejection of dogmatic enunciation and of reliance on authority, was considered to have inaugurated the new era by his insistence on the use of a critical method of inquiry. Yet the subject of method was not new when Descartes wrote his treatise. On the contrary, questions about the order and method to be employed in the arts and sciences had been discussed actively in Europe during the previous hundred years or more. By the end of the sixteenth century, when Galileo was beginning his researches into physical phenomena, the subject of method was indeed almost hackneyed. It had been the object of heated, if not always lucid, controversy; teachers of logic and of medicine had joined in praising and extolling the virtues of method, while differing considerably over its contents and application.

It has been suggested, with considerable plausibility, by modern students of intellectual history, that these sixteenth-century debates over method foreshadowed the great expansion of scientific research in the next century. In particular, it has been argued that Galileo was very much in debt to one trend of thought for his methodology--the Aristotelian. In his Das Erkenntnisproblem, Ernst Cassirer noted that significant changes were taking place in men's thinking within the Aristotelian tradition, and he singled out the development by Jacopo Zabarella of Padua of two "methods"--the compositive and the resolutive-- as especially important because of the later use of these methods by Galileo.

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