Term Paper: 1500-1700 Ad Humanities

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Scientific Revolution: 1500-1700 a.D.

The three hundred years between 1500 to 1700 a.D. was a period of a profound change in the thinking of the people (of Europe in particular). During this time, the centuries old beliefs of the people based on dogma and religious belief were challenged by a number of intellectuals who based their thinking on experimentation and mathematical analysis to understand the physical world around them. This revolutionary change in the way of thinking led to the application of knowledge to practical uses and propelled the Western world from the dark ages to the modern age. The significance of the period, which later came to be known as the period of "Scientific Revolution," lies in the fact that the scientific developments of the time affected all aspects of the peoples' lives and have led to the continuing dominance of the Western world over the rest of the world to this day. In this paper, I shall review the developments of the Scientific Revolution and discuss their importance.

Background

During the Medieval or Middle Ages of the European history, the philosophical and scientific doctrine was dominated by the Church. Certain 'truths' about the physical and natural world, based largely on Biblical studies and the Aristotle's philosophy (conveniently adopted by the Church as dogma) were considered to be undeniable. Prominent among these theories was the Aristotelian theory on astronomy that considered the earth to be the center of the universe around which all celestial bodies revolved. Other erroneous views of the time included the claim (later proved false by Galileo) that the rate at which an object fell depended on its weight, and that all matter was constructed from four basic elements -- earth, air, fire and water; or the belief that that the human body contained four different liquids (called 'humors') and that illness was caused by the imbalance of these 'humors.'

Such views about the physical world went unchallenged mainly because they were endorsed by the Church whose influence was very strong. As the Church began to lose some of its powers in the 16th century, several 'secular' thinkers began to develop theories about their surroundings, based purely on observation, experimentation and mathematical analysis rather than on philosophical observation. Although Aristotle himself had been the first to base his knowledge on 'empiricism,' he had not followed the principle in developing all his theories. (for example, Aristotle's theory on astronomy had adopted Ptolemy's 'geocentric' view of the universe).

Important Developments during the Scientific Revolution

Nicolas Copernicus was the first person to challenge the long-held belief about the earth being stationary and at the center of the universe by introducing his heliocentric theory in 1543, suggesting that the Earth is simply one of several planets which orbit the sun. (Hall, 117) This was a truly revolutionary concept and turned the 'scientific' doctrines of the time on their head, opening the door to other equally important developments.

Johannes Kepler (1571-1630)'s role in the Scientific Revolution is also notable as he studied the orbits of the planets and tried to find a 'grand scheme' that defined the structure of the universe. Although he was unable to do so, he discovered the 'laws of planetary motion,' the most important of which specified that the planets move around the sun in an elliptical motion, rather than in circles. Kepler, however, could not explain exactly 'why' the planets orbited elliptically. His model of the universe inspired other scientists of the era, notably Galileo and Newton to further develop the concept in their works.

Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) was an Italian astronomer who combined the laws of physics with scientific observation to support the Copernican-Keplerian models of the universe. Galileo used a new scientific invention, the telescope, to make observations of the physical world and irrefutably disproved the dogmatic beliefs of the time. As a result, he was declared a heretic by the Inquisition and sentenced to house arrest in 1633 where he remained until his death in 1642. (Shapin 15-16)

Isaac Newton (1642-1727) is the most important scientist of… [END OF PREVIEW]

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