The Growth of Scientific Ideas

The Growth of Scientific Ideas

The Growth of Scientific Ideas

The Growth of Scientific Ideas

Excerpt

That epoch-making work, An Essay Concerning the Human Understanding, has been described as being "not philosophy, but a preparation for philosophy". If it be permissible to compare small matters with great, it is as a preparation for the study of the History of Science that I should wish this little work to be judged.

Any attempt to enlarge and clarify the study of the History of Science calls for no apology. For in the proposals for educational reform sponsored by many and various Public Bodies there has been a striking unanimity in the call for a greater emphasis on the historical aspects of science at every educational level. The manner in which this demand is to be met calls, however, for serious consideration. We shall stand the best chance of giving an effective response if we bear in mind that what has prompted it is the growing sense of frustration in the face of the modern dilemma. This dilemma may be expressed in some such terms as these: The crisis of the modern world, material and spiritual, is largely the result of the phenomenal growth of scientific ideas and of technological expansion; it is inevitable therefore that a scientific education is gradually displacing the traditional one based on the culture of classical antiquity. But the further results of this process have been far from happy: such an education it seems fails to give the sense of human continuity and all those intangible qualities which we express in the name culture. Thus, while the continued isolation of our future leaders in the classical twilight would maintain the intellectual gulf which still yawns between many of our governors and the community, yet on the other hand to deprive them of acquaintance with the triumphs and failures of the past would be to deny our parentage, to establish a society in a cultural vacuum, with all the possibilities of anarchy and frustration which that so evidently implies. The mere prescription of "some acquaintance with the history of science" has in the past often been held, and with some justice, to be a mere sop to contemporary modes of thought in which a "scientific" education could be in a small measure "liberalised" by accretion of historical fact. In the last twenty or thirty years we have . . .

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