Progress in the Age of Reason: The Seventeenth Century to the Present Day

Progress in the Age of Reason: The Seventeenth Century to the Present Day

Progress in the Age of Reason: The Seventeenth Century to the Present Day

Progress in the Age of Reason: The Seventeenth Century to the Present Day

Excerpt

FAITH in the methods of science, and the exploitation of its fruits is so all pervasive in the life of modern European and American society as to distinguish it in a unique way both from societies like the Hindu and the Chinese, where until recently life has been entirely governed by ancient custom, and from the past societies of Europe which preceded the birth of modern science. When that crucial change came about is still something of a vexed question. Revolutions of such magnitude in our attitudes of mind are necessarily long in the making, and it is always difficult to pin-point the period of decisive change. In accordance with the eighteenth-century tradition which viewed the mediæval epoch as a dark age brought to a sudden close by the Renaissance, it was for a long time held that there had been no interest in investigation of the world of experience before the period of Leonardo da Vinci and Vesalius. Subsequent researches have not substantiated this view. The tradition of experimentation as a means of verifying hypotheses, although not consciously worked out as a system, nor practised with very much success, nevertheless does appear to be an unbroken one going back as far as the thirteenth century. Experience as a criterion of truth, discovery by experimentation that certain natural phenomena took place regardless of incantations, for example, were common to thinkers like Roger Grosseteste (who wrote on optics), Peter of Maricourt (who wrote an important treatise on magnetism), Albertus Magnus, and Roger Bacon. In the next century, the nominalism of Ockham and his school provided a restricted intellectual climate not unfavourable to empirical investigation. Theories of gravity as well as the theory of the diurnal rotation of the earth upon its axis were discussed at length by John Buridan . . .

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