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Introduction to this course

In this video, Han Thomas Adriaenssen outlines the course and introduces some of its main themes.
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Welcome to this course. In the next few weeks, we’ll look at one of the most exciting periods from history of science and philosophy– the 17th and 18th century. This was a time of great scientists and philosophers, such as Rene Descartes, Robert Boyle, and Isaac Newton. According to some, the work of these philosophers and scientists brought about a scientific revolution, and it is to this notion of a scientific revolution that we’ll look in the next few weeks. In the first week, which will be taught by me, we’ll provide you with some of the necessary historical background for understanding the innovations of 17th century science.
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As well see, people like Descartes developed their own scientific worldviews in opposition to a much older tradition– the tradition of Aristotelian science or Aristotelian natural philosophy, which had dominated the mediaeval universities for centuries. We’ll acquaint you with some of the basic tenets of Aristotelian science, and this will help you to better understand the innovations of 17th century science in people like Descartes and his followers. One thing that will emerge from this is that Aristotelianism, for all the criticism it received, never quite disappeared from the scene. Especially in biology, we’ll see, researchers continued to hearken back to Aristotelian ideas and concepts.
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So if there was indeed a scientific revolution in the 17th century, this didn’t quite wipe out older traditions and ideas. In the second week, which will be taught by Doina Rusu, we’ll take a look at the notion of a scientific experiment. Much as we are used nowadays to think of scientists as carrying out experiments to come to grips with nature, the notion of a scientific experiment hadn’t always been around. It needed to be developed. In this week, we’ll take a look at some of the earliest scientific experiments, which were carried out by people like Francis Bacon and Robert Boyle. One thing that will emerge from this is the sense in which a scientific experiment differs from ordinary, everyday observation.
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In a scientific experiment, researchers try to exercise a maximum of control over their observations. And they do so by working in clean laboratories, by using lenses, or by using microscopes. Laboratories, lenses, and microscopes, you might say, are the instruments they use to exercise control over their observations. And in the second week, we’ll take a look at the way in which these instruments were developed in the 17th and 18th centuries. The third week, which will be taught by Andrea Sangiacomo will take us out of the laboratory again. Indeed, scientists are not born in laboratories, and their ideas may be shaped by the ideas and habits of their time and age.
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In the third week, we’ll take a look at the interplay between scientific and societal factors in the development of early modern science. In particular, we’ll see that science and theology often went hand in hand in ways which may seem quite surprising to us nowadays, but which came much more naturally in the context of 17th and 18th century science. Also, we’ll take a look at the notion of secularisation as applied to early modern science. This, in the end, will get us a more balanced view of the interplay between scientific and religious factors in the development of early modern science. At the end of these three weeks, you’ll be able to look at today’s scientific practises with an historical eye.
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You’ll be able to see how today’s scientific debates inherit many of the ideas and concepts that were first formulated in the 17th and 18th centuries. Also, you will have read a number of complex historical texts, and you will have formed an idea of the way in which both sides and theology contributed to the development of early modern science. At the end of these three weeks, you’ll be able to use all your historical knowledge to form an idea about the extent to which the 17th and 18th centuries did indeed see the demise of old ideas and witnessed a scientific revolution.

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The Scientific Revolution: Understanding the Roots of Modern Science

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