Was the scientific revolution really a revolution in science?

In Jamil Ragep & Sally Ragep (eds.), Tradition, Transmission, Transformation. Brill. pp. 489–525 (1996)
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This chapter poses questions about the existence and character of the Scientific Revolution by deriving its initial categories of analysis and its initial understanding of the intellectual scene from the writings of the seventeenth century, and by following the evolution of these initial categories in succeeding centuries. This project fits the theme of cross cultural transmission and appropriation -- a theme of the present volume -- if one takes the notion of a culture broadly, so that, say, seventeenth and eighteenth or nineteenth century European intellectual cultures are deemed sufficiently distinct that one can speak of the "transmission" of texts and ideas from the one to the other as cross cultural. I maintain that a process of transforming and assimilating seventeenth century achievements manifests itself in two distinct cultures of interpretation, one developed by historians of philosophy, the other by scientists and historians of science. The first, following actor's categories, interprets the revolution in the seventeenth century as a philosophical displacement, partly fomented by a radical change in astronomical theory; the second, retrospectively applying the post nineteenth century sense of the term "science" to seventeenth century events, finds a "scientific" revolution, or the birth of modern science. The chapter proposes interpreting the Scientific Revolution as a revolution in natural philosophy and metaphysics

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Gary Hatfield
University of Pennsylvania


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