The Attitude of Voltaire to Magic and the Sciences

The Attitude of Voltaire to Magic and the Sciences

The Attitude of Voltaire to Magic and the Sciences

The Attitude of Voltaire to Magic and the Sciences

Excerpt

In its extreme youth the eighteenth century fell heir to the Newtonian heritage, and one of the most interesting problems for the student of the history of thought is the question of the appropriation of these riches. These included not only specific discoveries such as the theory of gravity but also the confirmation of the reign of law in the universe and the application of mathematical methods to the solution of scientific problems. Such revolutionary changes were, of course, not due to Newton alone, but his work can be conveniently taken as the culmination of one phase of scientific development and the inauguration of another. In fact it is almost too convenient, coinciding as it does with the end of the seventeenth century. We are tempted to imply a greater cleavage in thought than actually took place. However, whether the change was revolutionary or not, change there was especially among scientists. But what of the educated men who were not scientists? Is there evidence among them of a new attitude toward the sciences markedly different from that which they would have held in the seventeenth century? Did they soon become converts to Newtonism? How completely did they accept it and pass it on to others? How did it affect their opinions of new hypotheses and scientific methods? Did they still cherish outworn superstitions and time-honored notions? Just how reasonable indeed was the "age of reason", when philosophes in every country thought the century blessed above all others, because it had produced men like themselves who could think clearly unhampered by prejudices and ancient superstition?

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